Or So it Seems … The Play’s the Thing

I’ll have grounds
More relative than this—the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”

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 robb@robblightfoot.com.

Robb Lightfoot is a humorist, author and educator. He and his wife raised a family of four kids, a dozen or more dogs and a zillion cats. He 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 teaching at Shasta Community College, and his former 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 in national competitions. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-10 finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives and writes in Chico where he manages ThinkingFunny.com. He also hates referring to himself in the third person, and will stop doing so immediately. I can be reached in the following ways: Robb@thinkingfunny.com PO Box 5286 Chico, CA 95928 @_thinking_funny on Twitter
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15 Responses

  1. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    Ah, the damnable part of aging. Impaired hearing makes live productions less than enjoyable. We still attend productions at the Cascade, but being unable to hear more than about half of what is being said has made us decide to attend mostly musicals because we can follow the music but not the dialogue. We have tickets for Arrival, Asleep at the Wheel, and Garrison Keillor and know we’ll enjoy the first two but have doubts that we’ll be able to hear Keillor even though his enunciation is exemplary. There was a time when opera productions offered supertitles — subtitles above the singers. That would be a blessing since closed captions are always on on our television. Hearing aids help somewhat, but mostly what they do is make everything louder not clearer. Valerie Ing, Bill Engvall, and Bill Cosby are pretty much lost on us. OK, pity party over.

    • Avatar Robb Lightfoot says:

      It’s a problem I can relate to. The Houston theater (which was FREE to the public) had real-time captioning off to the side. We were with friends, and one of them using hearing aids… but still has trouble making out words in a jumble of sound. She said the performance was pretty easy to follow because of the big LED readout off to the side that displayed the dialog as the actors spoke. Perhaps we should lobby some of the local venues to do this?

      • Avatar EasternCounty says:

        Whoa! I’d stand in line, checkbook in hand, to support that. Perhaps a place to start is to contact Valerie Ing. Maybe we could designate our annual donations to go toward captions of some sort.

  2. Avatar Sheila Barnes says:

    Eastern County: The shows you mention are at the Cascade. As an usher, we often provide hearing enhancement devices for those who have hearing deficits. Just ask an usher and they will provide one of these free of charge.

    And Rob, thank you for your article. I agree that there are so many opportunities in this town to volunteer for the arts. High School musicals, volunteering for the Cascade, Riverfront Playhouse, Oaksong Music Society. And many more. One thing I have to mention: the Riverfront Website you shared is incorrect. Apparently there is a Riverfront Playhouse in Aurora, Illinois. Whoops. Our own dear Riverfront Playhouse Website is: riverfrontplayhouse.net.

  3. Avatar Mary Forbes says:

    Thanks for a great article, Rob. Riverfront Playhouse is indeed a great place to learn all aspects of live theater. They produce 6 shows every year and auditions are open to everyone. It provides an opportunity to learn staging, set building, costuming, tech booth, etc. It is Redding’s only community theater and has been providing quality live entertainment for over 30 years. The new 200 seat theater being planned for downtown Redding will also be a venue for a variety of other events. It will be an asset for our area in many ways and, yes, the capital campaign is working hard to raise the funds that will get the dirt moving on the corner of Placer and Pine Streets!

  4. Avatar Liz Waterbury says:

    Robb, once again you nailed it! Thanks for mentioning opera: it must feel like a bit of a risk in this town. Hey, if I could learn to love bluegrass music, then everyone around me should try to make friends with opera. I think Redding is great place to venture new things. And thanks for mentioning Robert and I. I feel special today! Hugs to you.

  5. Avatar Sheila Barnes says:

    Eastern County: Concerning hearing aides and hearing enhancement devices, I assume you have used your hearing aides at theaters and they have not been sufficient. Perhaps better hearing aides might help? I also realize everyone who has a hearing impairment, as I also do, have individual hearing “issues”. You might want to try using a hearing device at the theater without using your hearing aides. I am concerned there might be feedback is you tried using both. Experiment! Any disability that anyone might have should never prevent the enjoyment of the arts!

    • Avatar EasternCounty says:

      Your point is well taken, but my hearing aids are premiere top of the line — in fact, I just had them adjusted yesterday — but even they can do only so much. Clarity is the issue for nearly all hearing aid users. Volume is no problem, but manufacturers and researchers have been unable to overcome this bane of our existence.

      Do we ask for the devices at the door as we enter, or do we hail an usher once we’re seated?

      Thanks so much for your information.

  6. Avatar Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    Thank you for this article Robb. Theater was not part of my culture. Or in the words of my father, “not a practical and productive use of anyone’s time.” I’ve attended three productions; one in L.A. and two in Redding and was totally transformed and enthralled. I have to make performing arts a bigger part of my life. Again, great article.

  7. AJacoby AJacoby says:

    Heck, who needs HORRAY FOR HOLLYWOOD when we can have HORRAY FOR REDDING? We are so blessed in a town of this size, or any size for that matter, to have such an active performing arts scene. And HUGE kudos to you, Robb, for reminding and informing us.

    Also, thank you for pointing out that being involved in the performing arts does not HAVE to mean performing. Builders of sets, costuming, light design, sound design, program design, advertising . .. . etc., etc., All these non-performing support rolls are essential to all performing arts programs . . . and you don’t even have to audition to swing a hammer!

  8. Avatar Sally says:

    Being one of those that LOVES all the talent we have in our community, and having relatives that have been involved with Riverfront Playhouse for years, I was happy to read one of the comments mentioning The Readings at Riverfront tonight, Saturday night and Sunday matinee. I had seen NO advertising but definitely will be attending. There are 5 stories to be read, all 30 minutes or shorter. The price is only $10.00 for the evening with the proceeds going to Riverfront’s building fund. Yes, someday we will have that fine theatre we have been waiting for for years!

  9. Avatar Sheila Barnes says:

    Eastern County:
    Ask for the hearing devices before you are seated. An usher will take your driver’s license or other form of ID, file it safely until she/he returns it to you after the show, and then provide you with the device. After the show, just give the device to any usher. They can retrieve your license for you. The license just serves as collateral. I hope the device works to improve your enjoyment of the wonderful shows at the Cascade! (Laxson Auditorium in Chico and theaters in Ashland also provide this service. Actually, many theaters now do. And the technology of these devices seem to be improving. It rather depends on if the theater can afford to keep up with the technology.

    • Avatar EasternCounty says:

      You are so good to provide all this information. We’ll take a test drive during the Arrival performance.