Saturday I sat outdoors in the dark with hundreds of strangers and watched a 12-year-old boy get his fondest wish.
And then I saw him live to regret it.
More than 6,000 of us gathered in Houston’s Miller Theatre to watch Big, The Musical. The show featured live music and dozens of youngsters from the Humphrey’s School of Music. It was an evening of fine acting, song and dance, an interesting re-envisioning of the Tom Hanks 1988 movie, and I loved it.
Yes, I’m a sucker for musical theater.
Even though I was many miles from Redding, I was home again. I was transported to a door in my mind that only live theater can open. It’s a place filled with vivid memories from stages all across Shasta County. I’ve seen local artists like Sydney Mancasola, Ashley Parker Angel, and James Santos, get their start, and I’ve been enthralled by scores of others. And I’ll bet you, too, can recount stories of show-stopping moments–there’s a lot of talent in this town.
So I prefer live actors. Sure, Hollywood boasts “special effects.” But computers have no heart, and every live performance is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Where else can you watch a real horse walk on stage… and then steal the show by relieving itself?
OK. So maybe that’s not the best reason, but some things do tend to linger in my noggin. And anyone involved in theater has such stories—tales of missed entrances, flubbed lines, botched sword battles, clumsy kisses, and collapsing sets. Yet in spite of these disasters, live theater still bests what you’ll get at your local cineplex.
I say this as someone who’s been a part of the art since my college days—I’ve acted, directed, and worked behind the scenes painting sets or doing technical chores. But far more often I’ve been supporting someone else’s efforts on stage—usually my kids—as I chauffeured them about so they could act, sing, or dance.
And it has been worth every minute of it.
There’s something magical that happens when local artists gather to combine their skills before a supportive audience. It’s a special relationship. Think of the differences between movies and plays. The usual movie-goer files out after the show, shaking stale popcorn off his shoes.
But theater-goers linger.
They want to meet the cast and congratulate them, and while they’re waiting, a conversation with other fans usually ensues. It’s a powerful bonding experience that is an integral part of community theater.
We’re fortunate to live in a town that offers plenty of chances to join in this theater-going community, and if you’re not already involved, I encourage you to take the plunge.
Enterprise, Foothill and Shasta High Schools all have a long history of performances well worth your attention. Other programs have come on the scene recently, too. Even if you don’t have a kid in high school, mark your calendar, buy a ticket, and attend their shows. These performances need people on both sides of the curtain.
And if there are young people in your life, you should encourage them to join in. Theater is a great way to gain insights into what other people think, learn about history and culture, work in groups, master craft skills, develop confidence, and become a part of an artistic community. And while you’re at it, get involved yourself. There’s always a need for someone to swing a hammer, wield a point brush, or offer a few bucks for some plywood. Then you can take a special measure of pride when the lights go down.
Even adults can earn school credit for venturing on stage. Check out the theater offerings at Shasta College, if acting doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps you can learn how to design costumes, construct sets, conceive and execute a light show, direct, or choreograph. Theater embraces all the arts—that’s part of its charm.
Shasta College even has an opera program that’s trained singers who have gone on to work professionally, and their work is amazing. I’m a big fan.
Now, you may be thinking with bemusement. There are people in Redding who like opera?
Yes there are, but it wasn’t always so. We owe a lot to the talented team of Robert and Elizabeth Waterbury.
If you’re like me, your childhood “knowledge” of this art were formed by Looney-Tunes images of Bugs Bunny harassing a woman wearing a horned helmet. But it’s much more than that. Opera is full of high drama, courage, suspense, humor, romance, lust, betrayal and plenty of innuendo and sex. They were, after all, the soap operas of their age.
And they have music to die for.
If you doubt me, check out the opera workshop this August. Click here to see more information, or call the school for details about the class and performance dates. And if you prefer something a little more mainstream, you can take in Shasta’s summer Broadway-style musical production, Chicago, in July.
Either way, I predict you’ll be hooked.
But the good news is that you don’t have to wait until next month to enjoy some local talent. The Riverfront Playhouse is offering a unique event this weekend. Five of this area’s artists are featured in a unique event, the Playwrights’ Night Out, a showcase of five staged readings.
This is terrific chance to be a part of the art scene, see brand-new plays, and meet the creative minds behind these scripts. You’ll also help the Riverfront in their continuing effort to raise funds for a proposed new theater space.
The plays being produced are:
Halzem and Sophia by Dan Beckman
Spare My Brother by Jim Dowling
She has a Ticket to Ride by Chad MacFarlane
Titormus by Jason Prado
Matthew and Malichi by Jonessa Brittan
Tickets are $10, and can be purchased at the theater, on 1620 East Cypress St, in Redding, by phone at 243-8877, or online at www.riverfrontplayhouse.net.
You also can buy them at the Cascade Theater Box Office at 1733 Market Street, Redding.
The three performance dates are Friday and Saturday, June 20-21 at 7:30 pm and Sunday June 22 at 2 pm.
Live theater is a gift that the community gives itself. Even if you or yours never become famous, it’s still a great opportunity for growth, for friendship, and fun. Who knows? You may see a star being born before your eyes.
Or a feisty dog upstaging the lead.
So show up and support your local performing artist. Remember, even if the tenor misses a note or two, he’s still doing better than Russell Crowe.
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.