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LeBaron: Continuing Sonoma County's community theater tradition

  • Santa Rosa Players present fiddler on the roof Nov.1983

He said that all the world's a stage, didn't he?

So we have to believe Shakespeare would be delighted with the current production of "Romeo and Juliet," which is to be staged within the eerily dramatic brick walls that are all that remains of the southernmost of Santa Rosa's historic cannery buildings.

This ambitious project, a cooperative effort of David Lear's Vacant Lot Productions and the Arlene Francis Center will be performed under the stars in the ruins beside Santa Rosa Creek.

That's the plan at this writing. The city, which originally fretted about the use permit, has been convinced. The conditional use permit has been issued. The building permit and the special events permit should be in hand by Monday.

Lear is one of the founders of Main Stage West who has directed Sebastopol's Shakespeare in the Park in recent summers. The architect who will create the dramatic setting is Paul Gilger, set designer for 6th Street Playhouse. (You can see a 2-minute teaser of the space within the walls at indiegogo.com/projects/shakespeare-in-the-cannery.)

Lear's group has put together a theatrical package that promises to be an important milestone in the history of community theater — or, perhaps, more appropriately, theater in the community — in Sonoma County.

There is a "summer stock" aspect to all this that is appealing and also reminiscent of another theatrical venture that left its mark on Sonoma County's history. We are reminded of the Stumptown Players.

In 1952 and '53, a group of 16 theater students from UCLA came to the Russian River area and turned an old WPA recreation hall at Armstrong Grove into a theater.

It was all done in the best Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland let's-find-a-barn-and-have-a-show tradition. The 499seats were folding chairs borrowed from Fewel's Mortuary; the lighting was makeshift, with tin-can electrodes and a switchboard made out of pickle jars.

They papered the county with fliers and filled the seats for two summers. One of the actors was a young UCLA student named Carol Burnett, who played many roles (including a redwood tree in one original skit).


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