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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

“It’s nice being able to express yourself in a different way than just cleaning and going to work,” he said. “There’s only so many ways you can clean a house, so many ways you can make a pizza.”

The pandemic, the fires, the dreadful weight of the last year — all of it fades away on the stage, said actress Brenda Metzger, a retired state emergency management worker who played the flirty flapper Myra Arundel.

“When you’re performing, you have to stay in the moment,” she said. “When I’m on stage, I’m Myra. And the thing Myra cares about the most is getting laid.”

There were only about 38 people in the audience that night. A far cry from the typical crowds of 120 or so.

Karen Rovane, the theater company board’s publicity manager, worried aloud about the canceled shows and the small crowd.

“I’m looking at how we need to have so many people to at least make the money back from the show, let alone make a profit,” said Rovane, 60, of Pine Grove.

Every person involved with the theater — the actors, set builders, costume designers, tech operators — is a volunteer. All of the money from ticket sales goes right back into operations.

After the summer 2019 production of “James and the Giant Peach” at the amphitheater, volunteers were tearing down the set when they realized “things were squishy,” Rovane said. All of the wood beneath the stage, which had lasted three decades, was rotten.

The little town pulled together, raising more than $40,000 for a full reconstruction, an effort they called Save Our Stage 2020.

 

But who would save their stage from 2020?

“We had this big fundraiser, then shut down,” Rovane said. “We can’t just keep asking people for money.”

The audience sprawled on the grassy amphitheater steps, picnicking with coolers full of wine and cheese and crackers.

As the show began, cheers echoed through the canyon, and the faint smell of smoke hung in the air. A loud chorus of crickets, deep in the pines, accompanied the play.

On stage, the children of character Judith Bliss mused about how dull life must seem for her, newly retired in the country, far from the limelight. She’d be back, she said, for one can never stay away from the theater for long.

During intermission, volunteers serving cookies and coffee gave thumbs-up to the fire engines and ambulances, fresh off the Caldor fire, that kept rumbling down Main Street.

In Volcano, at least, the smoke was gone. When the stage lights went down, you could see the stars.

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