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As fires burn and crises bubble, a tiny theater in a speck of a California town rekindles joy

Haley Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

“This year, everybody gets vaccinated, the state opens up, and we’re still dealing with COVID. Actors get it. It’s just a problem. And now the fires on top of it? It feels like we can’t catch a break.”

The Volcano Theatre Company has long been the cultural heart of this Amador County hamlet, drawing thousands of people each year to its few restaurants, hotels and businesses.

The town, population about 100, sits in a bowl-shaped valley, which Gold Rush miners thought might be the crater of a dormant volcano. It once was a boomtown, with thousands of residents, a private law school, an astronomical observatory, and — in deference to the sacred and profane — lots of churches and saloons.

Now, it’s one of those tiny places peppering California that seem primed to be blotted out by some calamity, human- or nature-made.

When the Caldor fire started, Hagyard, 60, could see it from her Volcano house. She and her husband stuffed three days’ worth of clothes and some valuables into the trunk of their vehicle, ready to flee.

The fire burned away from them, to the north and east. They felt both lucky and guilty. Two friends in Grizzly Flats had just lost their homes to the flames.

 

But, all things considered, it was a time to be joyful, Hagyard said. She was standing outside the amphitheater on the last Saturday of August. The air was blessedly clear in Volcano, somehow. The show would go on.

As playgoers filtered into the amphitheater, the cast and crew — with a flair for the dramatic — could hardly contain their excitement.

“It’s been … frustrating? That’s a good word, right?” director Jim Estes said of the last year. “As actors, being involved in the theater, this is what we dooo.”

“It’s a very good — what’s the word I want to use? — a diversion away from everything,” Bibby added.

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