I joined a group of actors and crew members at their storage facility in Lakeport the other day. They were there to build set pieces, paint flats, and try on costumes for the latest comedic endeavor from the Lake County Theatre Company, Fishwrap, by Ben Bromley. They were meeting on a Saturday morning after working all week at their day jobs and rehearsing nights. Yet, the mood was energetic. People were talking, joking, and getting the work done.
BACKSTAGE LAKE COUNTY
The Middletown Middle School (MMS) is putting on their Spring play. This year, it’s The Rules of Comedy, by Peter Bloedel. I had never heard of this show, but since my son is doing the sound, I was able to read the script. And, boy is it a good one! The MMS students and director, Joleen Jessen, have some great material to work with. . The show runs Friday, March 17th and Saturday, March 18th in the cafeteria of the MMS campus.
Ten years ago, local theatre couple John Tomlinson and Barbara Clark shared the stage “examining love, lust, dating, and romance” in the two-person comedy Romantic Fools by Rich Orloff. Now, a decade later and married to each other, they are re-examining these characters and taking us along for the ride.
Last Spring I attended a Middletown Middle School performance of the Seussification of Romeo and Juliet directed by Joleen Jessen. I knew several of the students, and there were some hilarious standout performances. It was very entertaining. What struck me the most, however, was not the performances, but the stats that Jessen, the 7th-grade Language Arts and Drama teacher, gave out prior to the start of the show. Last year, out of 22 participants, 50% had all A’s (Principal’s List), over 50% had participated in both spring sports (softball or track) and the play, 9 had been chosen by their teachers as Students of the Quarter, 2 had Fs in English but by the time of the performance had brought their grades up to Bs, 2 created the Daily Bulletin for school every day, 100% had zero disciplinary incidents, 3 were bilingual, and 1 student had a major truancy problem and had completely turned that around by the time the play happened. And, spoiler alert, this past quarter she was on the Honor Roll and has a big role in this play as well! That is quite a testament to the power of the arts on learning outcomes.
After 3 years of planning, rehearsing, postponements, recasting, and changes in venue & production members, Driving Miss Daisy will finally open on September second at the Soper Reese in Lakeport. To say this production has been an emotional and logistical roller coaster for the cast and crew is an understatement!
Shakespeare at the Lake is back, and it’s better than ever! I’m not a Shakespeare kinda gal. I’m always up for a musical, but Shakespeare…not so much. I have to tell you, I absolutely loved this year’s show “12th Night.” And, of all the Shakespeare at the Lake productions I’ve seen, I found it to be the best one yet.
I’m happy to report that there is another new drama teacher in town! If you are a theatre goer, you may recognize him as Curly from Oklahoma!, as a member of the Lakeport City Council, as the former Mayor of Lakeport, as the former owner of Cheese’s Mainstreet Pizza, as a former Mr. Lake County, or as a DJ you’ve seen around the lake. No matter where you’ve seen him, Tim Barnes is always looking for new challenges.
After many years, Mrs. Cynthia Radford has retired and one of her former students, Carrie Ann Eve, is stepping up to take her place. Eve will be teaching Drama for the ninth through twelfth grades, Advanced Theatre, and Technical Design. She will also take over the Drama Club and the National Thespian Society for Middletown. She was the President of the Middletown High School Branch when she was a student at Middletown High School and she finds it pretty cool that she’s come full circle.
A Virtual Whodunnit, is the latest foray into the virtual realm for the Lake County Theatre Company (LCTC). In this play, Preston Sterling is hosting a Zoom meeting with his children, third wife, and closest staff to celebrate his birthday. The bitter old billionaire is bullying everyone once again and threatening to change his will when—ZZZZZT! Sterling is electrocuted through his phone: Enter Sloan, Detective Sloan, homicide. Through a series of Zoom conferences, Sloan questions the usual suspects, all of whom had a motive. When every suspect has motive and opportunity, it’s up to our brave detective AND the audience to find the killer. With three possible endings, every performance means you’ll never be sure Whodunnit.
During a time when everything has been uncertain, a group of students at Minnie Cannon Elementary School have managed to hold on to a little bit of normalcy. In January of 2020 Sharon Huggins, the fifth grade teacher and the 2019-2020 Minnie Cannon Teacher of the Year, decided she wanted to start a book club to share her love of reading with some of her students. She chose The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy even though it was above grade level because it “appealed to her sense of humor, love of science, and goofy nature.”
Normally, this column is all about theatre, but it’s a little hard to do that when all the schools and local theatre groups have had to cancel or postpone their productions. I could write about the heartache and logistical issues that come with postponing a show. However, between all the fires, and PSPSs, and now sheltering in place, I think we’ve had enough bad news and negativity to last us a while. So, this month’s column will focus on ways to keep ourselves and our families engaged and entertained. After all, isn’t that what theatre is all about?
Finding a venue for a theatre company without a home can be challenging. As can trying to bring theatre to all while based in a county with a lake set right in the middle of it. Such are the challenges that face the Lake County Theatre Company (LCTC). The company tries to bridge the gap by staging its shows at venues for rent in Lakeport and in Clearlake. Last year, a collaboration between LCTC and Mendocino College Lake Center brought Shakespeare at the Lake to Clearlake.
As a parent and a performer, I was very excited last year when I learned that someone was putting on a children’s theatre camp in Hidden Valley. I’m always looking for things to keep my child occupied over the summer break and what could be better than sharing my passion with him, and so close to home! That someone turned out to be Stepheny Moore Johnson.
Great theatre does not begin and end upon the stage. For every great performance, there are years of hard work and dedication. As any athlete will tell you, if you want to perform well, you must train.