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2014 July 14

End of an era

My son has his last performances at West End Studio Theatre this summer—his last summer before college.  He has had theater classes with Terri Steinmann and various of her staff members since the Wizard of Oz class in July 2004, and he has been performing on the WEST stage since they opened in 2007.  Between Pisces Moon (where Terri taught before founding WEST) and West Performing Arts, he has done at least 42 classes with them (I’m not sure how to count the Dinosaur Prom Improv troupe, which he performed with for two years—I counted that as only one class, though it probably should count as more, as there were weekly practice sessions for the two years).  Adding up all the course tuition over the 10 years he’s worked with them, I think we’ve paid around $20,000, averaging $2k a year—well worth it for the pleasure and the learning he has gotten from it.

This past weekend he performed as Otho (the interior designer) in Betelgeuse. After seeing the movie, I did not know how they would pull it off as a stage play, but they did quite a good job of it—particularly since they did not have the complete script until a few days before they performed (a long-standing WEST tradition of writing the script after rehearsals have started).  There were two casts (the morning class and the afternoon class), but I only saw the afternoon cast’s production—I understand that the interpretations of essentially the same script and set were quite different for the two casts (costumes had to be different, because the actors were very different sizes).

He has one more class with them this summer—the summer teen conservatory with Santa Cruz Shakespeare, which I believe still has room for another student or two (the conservatory is limited to about 12 students).  He’s done their Shakespeare teen conservatory for the past four years—it is quite different each time. The conservatory is probably West Performing Art’s most advanced theater class.

After this summer, not only will he be finished with West Performing Arts, but the West End Studio Theatre, where about half his performances have been, will be closed. We joke that they can’t go on without him, but the truth is that they are losing their lease.  They’ve been renting on a year-to-year contract for eight years, and the landlord has found a tenant (a beer brewer) willing to lease the space on a longer term lease.  The parting is amicable, but everyone will miss the W.E.S.T. space, which has been much more flexible and functional than any of the other spaces children’s theater has used around the city.

West Performing Arts will continue classes at the Broadway Playhouse and at schools, but they’ll need more space for classes than Broadway Playhouse can provide, especially for their popular summer classes, so they are looking for a new home. If anyone knows of spaces that might meet their needs (ideally, two large adjacent spaces that can be used for classes, one of which can be a flexible performance space, totaling about 10,000 sq ft, with storage, office space, and nearby parking and not needing a lot of renovation).  They don’t have a lot of money (they’ve been keeping the classes affordable), so the typical $15–20/sq.ft./year leases locally are probably beyond their means.  If anyone has any leads for them, their contact information is on their web site.

2014 June 9

Summer theater: Santa Cruz Shakespeare

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:25
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Tonight I went to a “Meet the Directors” event for donors to Santa Cruz Shakespeare.  (I’m a tiny donor, but I plan to give more this year, now that I know we can afford my son’s college expenses.)

The event was at Vino Cruz, a local wine shop that specializes in Santa Cruz Mountain vintners (there was wine served donated by Sones Cellars, local vintners who have been long-time supporters of Shakespeare Santa Cruz).  There was seating for about 20 people, with standing room for another 10 (I gave up my seat for some women who were less able than me to stand for the hour-long event).

Santa Cruz Shakespeare will have the Festival Glen at UCSC, and they’ll be doing two comedies: Merry Wives of Windsor and As You Like It (and the interns will be doing a no-budget production of the farce The Bard of Avon, which sounded hilarious as described by its director). I’ve already got my season tickets purchased (very nice seats), and I urge others to get theirs soon.  Anyone who will be in the Bay Area 2014 July 1–Aug 10 should try to get tickets for at least one performance.

The schedule and ticket sales can be found at  All ticket sales and donations go to provide the budget for next year’s shows—they are using a strict forward-funding model, with no borrowing.

Santa Cruz Shakespeare has been having some trouble getting the word out that there will be Shakespeare performed in the glen this summer and really wants as much word-of-mouth advertising as they can get.  So tell your friends about it!

Mike Ryan made some jokes about Santa Cruz Shakespeare having its first season, but having a 32-year history as well.  Many of the people associated with the productions this year (actors, directors, production staff, donors, dramaturges, …) have had long associations with Shakespeare Santa Cruz, some renewing associations that had lapsed.

There were no startling revelations from the directors, but I heard a little about how they viewed the plays and what period they were setting them in (roughly 1830s for As You Like It, and 1920s England for Merry Wives of Windsor).  The actor for Falstaff will be the same one who has appeared for the past few years in the Henry plays, and he’ll be great. Rehearsals have started (somewhere on Shaffer Road, on the far west side of Santa Cruz).

The costumes will be by B. Modern (who did a lot of the costuming for Shakespeare Santa Cruz, sometimes brilliantly and sometimes just a little too weird).

They couldn’t afford a large crew to reset the stage between plays, so they’ll be using a single set for all three plays (with minor modifications), to save money. The directors have discussed the set needs for each play and think that they have a workable compromise.  It won’t be quite the very elegant bare stage that I remember from a previous production of As You Like It (was it the 2006 production, or the 1997 one?), but it won’t be overly elaborate like the 2007 Tempest.

In any case, I’m very much looking forward to the summer season of Santa Cruz Shakespeare.

In other theater news, I also have ordered season tickets for the five shows that Jewel Theatre is doing: Saint Joan, Enter the Guards, Harper Regan, Complications from a Fall, and Woman in Mind.  We managed to select dates so that my son will be home from UCSB for 4 of them, so we got him a 4-play season ticket to go along with our 5-play season ticket.  (See for more information.)


2014 April 27

Ridiculous excuses for canceling show

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:09
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One of the most ridiculous excuses from a school official I’ve ever seen was published this week in the Washington Post:

April 25, 2014

Dear Kindergarten Parents and Guardians,

We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the 21st century are changing schools, and, more specifically, to clarify, misperceptions about the Kindergarten show. It is most important to keep in mind is [sic] that this issue is not unique to Elwood. Although the movement toward more rigorous learning standards has been in the national news for more than a decade, the changing face of education is beginning to feel unsettling for some people. What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world.

The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.

via Kindergarten show canceled so kids can keep studying to become ‘college and career ready.’ Really..

It seems that the kindergarten teachers at Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, N.Y. did not want to do yet another kindergarten school play.  I can’t say I blame them—herding kindergartners and getting them to perform is a lot of work, and even kindergarten teachers can get burned out on it.  But the excuse they use, “preparing children for college and career,” is so ridiculous that it would be regarded as absurd if presented in a play or novel.

Kindergarteners are supposed to be being prepared for elementary school, not for college, and theater is excellent preparation for many careers (any that involve public presentations, for example), anyway.

My son started enjoying acting in preschool and has been on stage (or on film) in about 70 productions since then. The school plays were not as good, generally, as the ones he did in summer or after-school productions, but they were still highly valued parts of his education.  His senior year of high school alone has seen 10 different performances, and he still has another improv show and playing Don John in Much Ado to come—and that’s just during the school year, not summer theater.

Theater has gotten him through high-school English classes that he would otherwise had difficulty tolerating—about half his high school English has been dramatic literature classes.  Conventional literary analysis irritates him, triggering writer’s block, but he can work on fairly deep analysis to do character development for performance.

2014 March 9

Three Days of Rain

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:43
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We just saw a very good production of Three Days of Rain, by the Jewel Theatre in Santa Cruz. It runs for another week (Wed through Sun), and I don’t think that all the performances are sold out, so tickets may be available (though probably not for all performances).

We’ve also purchased our tickets for Jewel Theatre’s production of What the Butler Saw in May—for once we ordered the tickets early enough to get our choice of seats.  We picked a day that has apparently just been added to the run, since we were the first to buy tickets for it—the first day we looked at would have required us to sit in the back row, where we usually end up. Those are not bad seats in a tiny theater like Center Stage, but it’ll be a nice change to sit in the third row, in what are arguably the best seats in the house.  (The second row is clearly the worst, since it is on the same level as the first row, so sight lines are somewhat blocked.)

Next year, my wife and I will probably get season tickets for Jewel Theater, as long as most of the plays look like ones we want to see. My son will be away at college (I hope—we haven’t heard back yet from any of the colleges he applied to), so it will just be the two of us. That means we’ll stop skewing the age distribution so much—we’re guessing that my son was the youngest person in the audience by a factor of 2, and my wife and I were probably still below median age and will probably continue to be until we retire.

I think it is a shame that Jewel Theatre is not attracting a younger audience—the ticket prices are fairly affordable ($31 for adults, $26 for students) and the quality is high. Maybe Friday nights get a younger crowd than Sunday nights, and we’re getting a distorted view of the audience age distribution. There is certainly plenty of youth interest in live theater, but maybe it is being met by all the children’s and teen theater that is available in Santa Cruz (schools, West Performing Arts, and the musical companies: All About Theater, Kids on Broadway, Hooked on Theater, Little People’s Repertory Theatre, Christian Youth Theater, …). Perhaps Jewel Theatre needs to team up with West Performing Arts to have a special teen day or family day with discount group tickets.

2014 March 4

Summer theater: Santa Cruz Shakespeare and WEST

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 13:15
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Santa Cruz Shakespeare has announced their summer season on their new website They will have the Festival Glen at UCSC, and they’ll be doing two comedies: Merry Wives of Windsor and As You Like It.  My family had predicted Merry Wives of Windsor and Hamlet, but I guess the artistic director or the board decided that comedies sold better than tragedies, and they need to make enough money to do another season next year.

We’ll be getting season tickets as soon as we figure out our summer schedule.  The main constraint on our summers has traditionally been WEST summer theater programs, and WEST has recently released their summer schedule. My son is aging out of most of their offerings—he’ll probably want to do the teen conservatory, which is July 28–Aug 16, and he might want to do the teen production of Beetlejuice, June 23–July 11, if he is still eligible after his senior year of high school. I think that this is the first year that they’re doing 3-week, instead of 2-week, productions. The Beetlejuice ones are just half days, 5 days a week, but the teen conservatory is 10 a.m.–5 p.m. 6 days a week. The one thing that might interfere with my son’s summer theater plans is college orientation—we have no idea when that will be, because he has not yet gotten any admissions offers. (Despite T.S. Eliot, for high-school students March is the cruellest month, not April, as admissions offers trickle out during March.)

I suspect that the last week of the WEST teen conservatory will include instructors from Santa Cruz Shakespeare, as their season ends August 10.

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