Reflecting on Theatre and Community

This entry was composed last night in Sebastopol, CA, where I traveled to catch the final production at the soon to be defunct Sonoma County Repertory Theater. The company has existed since 1993 and carved out an active presence in the Sonoma area arts community.

I’ve traveled up to Sebastopol (Sonoma County) this evening to visit the Sonoma County Repertory Theater for the 4th production I have seen here. Unfortunately, it will also be the last, as they will be closing following the run of the current show Cyrano (a three person version) on Sunday, February 20th. About two years ago, it was an unfortunate trend to have several theatres declare that they “needed to raise _____ amount of dollars or they will close for good.” Now, we seem to have reached the second round, with the Rep shutting its doors (after a similar campaign last fall) and a few other places in the Bay Area either downsizing or not continuing to produce.

The Rep’s relationship between arts and community is exactly the type of theatrical life that I would like to lead someday. They have a small storefront space nestled right into the downtown Main Street of Sebastopol. They seem to have been well established in the community, and formerly produced in nearby Santa Rosa. They had an extensive outreach program to local schools with education flourishing. The theatre seems to have contributed greatly to downtown nightlife, boosting the income of a few eateries around the town and general foot traffic. They will continue to maintain the “Sebastopol Shakespeare Festival”, presenting one show in a nearby outdoor park during the summer season. It seems unfortunate, but realistic, that they have to close.

What will the theatres become if they all narrow down to a select few houses presenting fewer and fewer plays each season? I wonder if the budgets will survive, either, with headlines today about how the NEA budget is almost completely eliminated and sources of philanthropic funding have dwindled considerably. I suppose there is something to be said for a “back to the land” style of thinking, where the theatres get more involved with their communities – and that is something I would support. On the other side, there are many arts workers, myself included, who have chosen (and need!) to make a living through their artistic pursuits. They need the work and they want to be artistically stimulated and challenged.


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