Real Live Theater

Posts Tagged ‘California’

Sonoma County Repertory Theater

In Places and Spaces on August 19, 2009 at 3:17 pm

By Kim Taylor

Sonoma County Repertory Theater

Sonoma County Repertory Theater

SEBASTOPOL, CA – Traveling down North Main Street in the little hamlet of Sebastopol, California one could easily pass by one of its most valued treasures.

Built in the 1870’s, the storefront location at 104 N. Main Street was originally the town’s general store. Today, this vintage gem is an intimate 80-seat theater venue and home of the Sonoma County Repertory Theater.

Founded in 1993 as the Main Street Theater, its first production, Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Ernest,” set the standard for professional quality theater in Sonoma County.

In 1995, a second theater was opened in Santa Rosa, prompting a name change to Sonoma County Repertory Theater, fondly referred today by locals as “The Rep.” Economic challenges of operating two theaters forced the closing of the Santa Rosa location in 2000.

But, the best things do come in small packages. During the past decade the theater company has garnered respect and accolades with bold play selections and a talented roster of company players.

Without a wing space or fly system, the artistic staff of the Sonoma County Repertory Theater takes a positive approach at its main stage location with creative and inventive staging. Storage is located at an off-site facility, but administration offices and dressing rooms are conveniently located on the second floor, above the theater.

During the summer months the Sonoma County Repertory Theater can spread its wings, its vision and its audiences presenting its annual Sebastopol Shakespeare Festival with outdoor productions at Sebastopol’s Ives Park, also located downtown at 7400 Willow Street.

Featuring beautiful trees surrounding the stage, easy accessibility and a large grass area, the park venue can accommodates over 300 patrons each performance. The Ives Park location offers a family-friendly environment and Sonoma County tourists a fun, cultural destination, making The Rep’s Shakespeare fest a favorite Sebastopol summer tradition.

Sonoma County Repertory Theater has an annual audience of about 10,000 patrons. The theater company presents seven to eight productions per year including its critically acclaimed annual holiday presentation of “A Christmas Carol” and two productions for its annual Sebastopol Shakespeare Festival.

Sonoma County Repertory Theater also serves over 5,000 young people annually through its arts education and outreach programs.

Additional information about Sonoma County Repertory Theater can be found at www.The-Rep.com.

Mary Gannon-Graham and Wendel Wilson in Midsummer Night's Dream at Sonoma County Repertory Festival's Sebastopol Shakespeare Festival 2009

Mary Gannon-Graham and Wendel Wilson in Midsummer Night's Dream at Sonoma County Repertory Festival's Sebastopol Shakespeare Festival 2009

A former entertainment calendar editor and features writer at the Marin Independent Journal, Kim Taylor, combined her media experience and appreciation for arts and entertainment and established herself as a successful and award-winning publicist.

Additional articles by Kim Taylor include:

6th Street Playhouse

In Places and Spaces on June 1, 2009 at 2:20 pm

By Kim Taylor

6th Street Playhouse architectural drawing (Paul Gilger, Architect)

6th Street Playhouse architectural drawing (Paul Gilger, Architect)

SONOMA COUNTY, CA – A theatrical marriage took place in Santa Rosa in February, 2005 when two established theater companies, The Santa Rosa Players and Actors Theatre, joined forces and moved into the newly renovated 6th Street Playhouse and presented their first joint production. Jerry Herman’s popular and beloved musical Mame was performed to sell out crowds.

In less than five years the newly formed theater company, which adopted the name of the 6th Street Playhouse, has garnered critical acclaim for its productions and West Coast premieres, received preservation awards, theatrical award nominations and noted internationally for revered talent on its main stage.

The 6th Street Playhouse partnership between the Santa Rosa Players and Actors Theatre was formed in 2004. Managed by one board of directors, the 6th Street Playhouse venue emerged from the renovated 107-year old Del Monte cannery. The renovation project received the City of Santa Rosa Award for Cultural Enrichment and the Sonoma County Historical Society Award for Preservation of a Historical Building.

American architect, set designer and playwright Paul Gilger of Sonoma County, orchestrated the conversion turning the large brick structure, located in the historic Railroad Square district, into a 186-seat professional, state-of-the art theater facility theater.

The project included excavation to create the seating terraces and an orchestra pit; the installation of interior walls, new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; and new theatrical equipment including sound, lighting and stage rigging. The renovation also included the installation of refurbished seats acquired from a former Santa Rosa movie theater and the tireless job of cleaning old brick.

The theater facility features a lobby, box office, wing space, lighting, rigging, scrims, flies, backdrops, storage, dressing rooms and sound booth. The main theater is an intimate venue with excellent sightlines, acoustics and flexibility. In January 2008, 6th Street Playhouse completed its 99-seat black box Studio Theatre and where it presented the West Coast premiere of Public Exposure, by Robert B. Reich.

Since its debut in 2005, the 6th Street Playhouse has flourished presenting full seasons in both theaters including popular musicals, American classics, comedies, the avant-garde and productions featuring the students of its School of Drama. The 2008 6th Street Playhouse production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman received international attention as it featured noted actor of stage and screen, Daniel Benzali, in the role of Willy Loman.

In 2009, the 6th Street Playhouse received six outstanding award nominations from the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics’ Circle.

Additional information about 6th Street Playhouse can be found at www.6thStreetPlayhouse.com.

6th Street Playhouse architectural drawing (Paul Gilger, Architect)

6th Street Playhouse architectural drawing (Paul Gilger, Architect)

A former entertainment calendar editor and features writer at the Marin Independent Journal, Kim Taylor, combined her media experience and appreciation for arts and entertainment and established herself as a successful and award-winning publicist.

Additional articles by Kim Taylor include:

Where do you go when you need a fifty year old baby blue phone?

In Behind the Scenes on May 21, 2009 at 11:08 pm

by Phil Gravitt

Andrew Lewis and his salad prop (submitted photo)

Andrew Lewis and his salad prop (submitted photo)

SAN MATEO COUNTY, CA – Andrew Lewis fell into the prop rental business in the mid 1980’s while helping a neighbor who was working on the TV show “Miami Vice.”   He has owned The Prop House in Brisbane since 2003, although the business has been around for twenty years. With racks filled with props to the 20 foot high ceilings, and another warehouse in Oakland, “Just ask” is good advice at The Prop House.   Signs abound on each isle — “Fences, Carpets, Floors, Doors.”  A bin filled with medical supplies has a sign advising, “Fake blood available – Ask at counter.”  One isle looks like a colorful history of the telephone; in a corner, a small room is filled with hundreds of signs, from roads to hospitals.  Heavy items like saddles and large electronic devices sit on the floor, while the racks above hold lighter things like hats, toys, framed mirrors, lamps, rocking chairs and sporting equipment.

Sometimes volunteers from school or community theaters come in and ask for a prop without knowing much about what they are looking for.  Lewis usually asks them to call the director and find out what year or period the play takes place. “Once I know the year or period,” explains Lewis, “I’ll know or can find out what was popular or vintage for that time.”   As an example, he picked up a 1956 Life magazine, showing an ad of what a “modern” kitchen looked like, and a few record album covers displayed period microphones.

To save time and money, Lewis says, “I like to get community theaters to contact me before they start committing to ideas for props or sets.    I want to know ‘how much does the audience need to know about a prop or set in a scene?’   With a sink and a suspended mirror, we can sell the audience they are looking at a bathroom. You don’t need walls, windows or a floor.”

Often seasoned prop masters will contact Lewis for advice.  Lewis notes, “After twenty six years, what others find hard to figure out comes naturally to me.”  However, Lewis quickly adds, “People have been making and adapting props for centuries. Sometimes I’ll think of a ‘new’ idea, and then read that’s how it was done hundreds of years ago.”

Occasionally, props require construction or adaptation.    Lewis has a box that quickly attaches to a phone to make it ring, and stop ringing when the phone is picked up.  He has made a wagon wheel out of a ships wheel, and a ships wheel out of a wagon wheel.  Using a pair of one liter plastic soda bottles, he made a large hourglass.

A prop needs to be dependable and easy to use by the actors without requiring elaborate setup.  For a recent school play, the prop master needed an oxcart that a student could easily pull and be sturdy enough that it wouldn’t fall apart.    “A real oxcart is heavy and has wooden axels,” Lewis explains. “I helped them build one out of a light wood crate, using a threaded rod for an axel, with bearings so the wheels rolled smoothly and easily.  Then we painted the metal to look like wood.”

During our interview, a member of his staff helped a prop master design a jewelry display out of a fabric covered table, a wood rack filled with angled dowels, which were filled from a box of jewelry.

One scene in a play called for an actor to use a knife to slash another actor’s throat.  “We provided a rubber knife and how to use it,” Lewis says.  “Right before the scene, a piece of yarn was soaked in fake blood, and then stuck on the back edge of the blade.  When the throat was slashed, the red squeezed out of the thread onto the neck. It was simple, and real enough that the audience reacted.”

“A prop like this needs to be 100% safe,” Lewis added.  “The audience needs to be safe as well.   When we use foggers, the fog has to be FDA approved.  And signs and announcements need to be made, so asthmatics are aware of fogger being used.   There is licensing, fire permits and sometimes firearms permits.  We have ‘theatrical fire,’ fans with lights on silk.”

In the past, more chemicals were used to do painting and special effects.  “Now, “ Lewis says, “We have lower toxicity with latex, water based and poster paints.  For a prop, the paint doesn’t have to last forever, sometimes only a few days.   For FX, we have electric spark devices, foggers, and more high tech ways of doing things.”

Movies usually have bigger budgets for props, and lots of technology,” Lewis adds.  “For community theaters, a prop supplier must be more clever and resourceful.    Since there is no money, there is no budget.”

Lewis says, “Finding and creating the right props for community theaters is challenging and fun, because I have the liberty to think outside the box.  I’m looking for a prop based on what the director sees or envisions, not what is really there.”

“A theater prop often doesn’t have to have every detail like it would need for a film or TV show with close-ups.   I know how to do it on a movie budget; for community theaters, I need to figure out how to make it work without the $1000 part. I need to be like McGuiver, making something out of nothing, make do with what we’ve got.”

Additional information about The Prop House can be found at www.theprophouse.net.

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog http://www.BAArtQuake.com.

Additional articles by Phil Gravitt include:

Making theater without a theatre?

In Behind the Scenes on May 1, 2009 at 4:07 pm

by Phil Gravitt

For Rent, photo by joe potato

For Rent, photo by joe potato

MARIN COUNTY, CA – “The challenges of creating a theater out of an empty storefront are what make it fun,” says Jeanette Harrison, Artistic Director and Actor with AlterTheater, a Marin County theater group. Art galleries and retail stores also have been locations for AlterTheater performances. “Our point is to be in places where people walking by on the street will see in, and see theater going on, like on 4th street in San Rafael.”

“Our space designers, technicians and directors must be flexible and interested in the challenge,” explains Harrison.  “For each space, we design the stage and sets, the audience areas.  Often even the dressing rooms must be created, occasionally with stacked boxes in a storeroom.    Sometimes the stage is defined by a piece of tape on the floor; occasionally we create location with a soundscape instead of building a fancy set.   If we are in a retail space, we move the furniture or use it as props.”   The seating may be arranged so the audience surrounds the actors, or form a horseshoe shape around the stage area, or a normal theater configuration.

“We have no fancy stage,” says Harrison. With no formal separation between the actors and the audience, an AlterTheater director once observed, “The advantage and disadvantage of working this way is there is no place to hide.”

Another challenge is finding and analyzing the right space and electrical power in the available area.  Harrison explains, “If there is power, will it have the capacity we need, or will we be limited to just a few lights?”

The idea for AlterTheater came from Marin actors who, in the face of rising bridge tolls, “began looking to work on our own side of the bridge.” Harrison says, “We started using empty storefronts because we would rather pay actors instead of landlords.”  Altertheater also prides itself on being a found-object theater: almost everything you see in their productions is borrowed, found for free, rescued or recycled.

Having a reputation for taking care of the space has helped AlterTheater find locations, which are needed for five weeks, one week longer than the four week run of a performance.   Commercial realtors and building owners have been happy getting publicity for their empty storefronts.  “And art galleries are interested in supporting all arts, not just visual arts,” says Harrison, “while retail store owners are excited to have people who don’t typically come into their stores.”
In an empty storefront, AlterTheater can stay set up for the entire run of the performance.  However, Harrison says, “We usually have a backup location.  Twice the space was rented during our run, and we had to move, even after the postcards and posters were printed.”

While AlterTheater relies on Facebook, mailing lists, calendar listings and publicity in local papers, the best publicity is the storefronts themselves.  “A good percentage of our audience is non-theatergoing people who live and work in neighborhood.” says Harrison. “Sometimes passengers waiting for a bus read our posters in the window. By being in the neighborhood, we bring theater to the people.”

New actors also must be up to the challenge.  “Although we primarily work with a core ensemble of actors, when we bring in new people, reaction varies,” observes Harrison. “I recommend actors see one of our shows first to know what they are getting into.”

Additional information about AlterTheater can be found at www.AlterTheater.org.

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog http://www.BAArtQuake.com.

Additional articles by Phil Gravitt include:

The Imaginists Theater Collective: establishing a place where you become a creator

In Behind the Scenes on March 8, 2009 at 4:28 pm

by Phil Gravitt

Brent Lindsay and Amy Pinto in UBU REX, photo by Eric Monrad

Brent Lindsay and Amy Pinto in UBU REX, photo by Eric Monrad

SONOMA COUNTY, CA – After Brent Lindsey and his wife Amy spent several years on the East Coast in traditional theater companies, they had a meeting of the minds in 1993.

“It was up to us to proceed down that path or change directions.”  Deciding on the latter, Brent & Amy formed the ensemble-based Imaginists Theatre Collective in rural Delaware.  Finding like minded colleagues, they did away with the hierarchy of traditional theater.   “Everyone has a fair say in ensemble,” says Brent. “Actors handled sets, lights, performing, everything.  We learned to write and create, and the director became more a facilitator.”

“We don’t audition,” Brent continued.  “Ensemble asks a lot of an actor, and it is up to each actor to find how they are going to mine their artistic voice, and how far are they able to go to give back to the project.”

Discussing the audience attracted to ensemble based theater, Brent says, “We reach a different, younger audience.  After a show builds buzz, the traditional theater audience eventually comes on board.    We do original theater and original adaptation, which is often not as enticing to a standard theater goer.   When the title on the marquee is ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts,’ and you see puppetry and other things not typical in theater, your brain is going to have to decide if you like it.  Ensemble is difficult in this culture, when people want things fast, and we are competing with other entertainment forms that are easier to digest”

Brent quickly adds, “We are not interested in entertaining, and we don’t want the audience to be star struck. We want the audience engaged in dialogue and community. We’re all in it together.  It is not audience versus performer.  We get out of makeup and into the audience quickly after the show, to find out what are the questions and mysteries, and what did we all go through together.”

After Delaware, Brent and Amy moved to Truckee, then Healdsburg, where they started an education program in 2002.   Like the ensemble, the education program is far more a ‘creator program’ rather than an ‘actor program.’    In three years, they grew from six kids to sixty, dropping to forty when Imaginists and the current five member ensemble moved to Santa Rosa.

Explaining his training philosophy, Brent says. “We don’t want to put a lot of actors out into a culture that has an overflow of actors.   From kids on up, we are interested in establishing a place where you become a creator.  Where students learn to listen to each other and become generous with ideas.”

“When you go out into the world,” Brent continued, “even if you veer away from the art form itself, instilled in you is confidence, active risk taking, and growing your artistic voice. You can become a parent, a chef in a restaurant, just about anything, and find that artistry and creative voice in you and make the world a better place.”

Asked to describe how someone would go about starting a community theater project, Brent explains, “When we started our ensemble, there was no mentorship, no one there to legitimize what we were going to do.   None of our teachers were there to say, ‘This is how you do it.’  In the beginning, we were making it up as we went along.

“My hope is that actor training programs are beginning to offer education for those wanting to start non profit grass roots companies.   I hope there are more companies like us around, where new companies could write to them and get some help.  We are there for people doing what we do.”

More information about The Imaginists Theater Collective can be found at www.TheImaginists.org.

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog http://www.BAArtQuake.com.

Additional articles by Phil Gravitt include: