Dude, No Way! Laser Shows Go Dark at Griffith The Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles re-opened this month after several years of refurbishing. And to the dismay of some, its fabled laser light show -- the first-ever regular laser show in the world -- is no longer part of the schedule. Day to Day contributor Jennifer Sharpe reports on the history and the future of laser light entertainment.
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Dude, No Way! Laser Shows Go Dark at Griffith

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Dude, No Way! Laser Shows Go Dark at Griffith

Dude, No Way! Laser Shows Go Dark at Griffith

Dude, No Way! Laser Shows Go Dark at Griffith

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6480607/6480608" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles re-opened this month after several years of refurbishing. And to the dismay of some, its fabled laser light show — the first-ever regular laser show in the world — is no longer part of the schedule. Day to Day contributor Jennifer Sharpe reports on the history and the future of laser light entertainment.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back in 2002, just before the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles closed for renovations, it announced that its long-reigning planetarium show, Laserium, would not be coming back. The Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles re-opened this month without its fabled light show.

DAY TO DAY contributor Jennifer Sharpe has this remembrance of the original laser concert that got lost in the overhaul.

JENNIFER SHARPE: Tilted back in my chair amidst a familiar crowd of after hours misfits, I stared up into the domes spirographic laser abstractions and tried one last time to tap into the surrogate drug high Laserium had become so famous for inducing. But maybe I'd spent too much time at my computer since I'd last communed with the show.

Unidentified Woman #1: I don't know what's going on. It's just fantastic, all these people. In my head tonight I just had to come up here.

Unidentified Man: Laserium: alive, laser beam light concert, under the stars in the Griffith planetarium.

Unidentified Woman #2: It was a trip.

Unidentified Man: A cosmic, outer-space journey into your mind.

SHARPE: Laserium was born in 1973 at the Griffith, who donated the planetarium's empty Monday nights on a trial basis to an avant-garde filmmaker obsessed with the beauty of lasers. And by the end of Laserium's first month there, a crowd of 500 had been turned away from the doors.

Unidentified Man #2: It's really flipped out.

Unidentified Woman #3: Oh, it's terrible. Some psychedelic nut went on this trip.

Unidentified Man #3: Laserium: The world's only laser light concert, every Monday at Griffith Observatory. Be prepared.

(Soundbite of song "Time" by Pink Floyd)

SHARPE: By 1978, Laserium had become an international planetarium phenomenon, reaching an approximate 20 million people in 46 cities. And yet now, almost 33 years to the day of Laserium's debut, the Griffith Park Observatory had re-opened and no one seemed to report anything missing.

Unidentified Woman #4: Well, (unintelligible), they really seemed to love it. In fact, I haven't heard anyone say anything bad about the park at all.

SHARPE: I called the observatory's director, Dr. Ed Krupp, whose new, more educationally minded planetarium show, Centered in the Universe, has been selling out.

Dr. ED KRUPP (Director, Griffith Park Observatory): There was not a public outcry: Oh no, you're not running Laserium. We actually got very little response.

SHARPE: But I finally found at least one person who felt differently about it.

Mr. IVAN DRYER (Founder, Laser Images, Inc.): I actually had a tinge of sadness. The fact that we're not re-opening there was a little bit of a stab in my soul.

SHARPE: Ivan Dryer, the undisputed father of Laserium, led me down the dark hallway of his Van Nuys headquarters.

Mr. DRYER: This is a black-light mural.

SHARPE: And opened the door to the last-remaining Laserium venue in the world, a dome-less room in the back, crammed with thrift-store couches and office chairs lined up to face a screen.

Mr. DRYER: This is our temporary theater arrangement.

SHARPE: Sitting next to a weathered lighting console, Dryer remembered spending time at the Griffith Observatory as a teenager.

Mr. DRYER: Working the gift shop, picking up pegs in the pendulum pit.

SHARPE: And then he'd returned in his mid-30s.

Mr. DRYER: We took a small laser and put on a record. Forty-five minutes later, we turned the record over and sat for another 45 minutes watching this because it was so entrancing.

SHARPE: Despite his long-standing love for the observatory, somewhere along the way he'd started to feel its physical limitations holding Laserium back.

Mr. DRYER: We were not able to have a really good sound system because they had a plaster dome and they were afraid it would fall down if we had subwoofers in there.

(Soundbite of song "Time" by Pink Floyd)

SHARPE: But at long last, Laserium will finally get to stretch out when it moves its fog machines, concert sound system and expanded interactive repertoire into Long Beach's Spruce Goose Dome this January.

Mr. DRYER: That dome is about six-times the size of the Griffith dome.

SHARPE: To demonstrate the power of the new equipment he'll be using there, Dryer held up a piece of wood to a laser beam he never could've used at the Griffith.

Mr. DRYER: This is our reincarnation.

SHARPE: A few seconds later, it began to smolder. In Los Angeles, I'm Jennifer Sharpe.

(Soundbite of song "Time" by Pink Floyd)

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Dude, more to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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