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Chris Smith: SRJC president takes on new role in online play

Frank Chong has been acting funny.

The Santa Rosa Junior College president reveals new talents through his theatrical debut in the school’s gutsy, online production of the holiday favorite, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“It’s been a blast,” Chong said of acting the part of the down-on-his-luck Mr. Gower, the town pharmacist. “I don’t have a big part, but it’s fun being with the kids.”

Director, adapter and lyricist John Shillington and the cast and crew intended to stage the musical interpretation of Frank Capra’s 1946 film in the campus’s beautifully remodeled Burbank Theatre. The COVID crisis foiled that plan.

Resolved that the show must go on, the “It’s a Wonderful Life” company pivoted to a technologically challenging online production. The musical numbers were prerecorded, and on performance nights the acting scenes are produced live by cast and crew members working at their homes.

“It’s a huge project,” Shillington said. “It’s actually quite miraculous. We are excited to be doing a musical on Zoom. We’ve never seen anybody attempt it.”

He added, “2020 has been a difficult year, and it’s easy to forget that it’s a wonderful life in spite of it all; politics, riots, COVID. This show is a fabulous reminder.”

There are performances at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. For tickets, go to theatrearts.santarosa.edu. The JC’s ticket box will send you an email with day-of-performance instructions and an online access code.

Asked how newcomer to the stage Chong is working out, Shillington shares, “I told him he can quit his day job if he wants to. He has a cameo performance but he makes the most of it.”

IN GEORGIA, where a pair of January runoff elections will determine the balance of Democrat-Republican power in the U.S. Senate, social media videos by a popular Sebastopol animator urge people inclined to sit out the vote for any reason to instead get a grip.

The lively shorts by Jason Windsor, who’s credited with making the world’s first viral video 17 years ago, implore potential voters to make their voices heard in the high-stakes runoffs.

Windsor lives in Sebastopol with his wife, Amie Windsor, new publisher of the Sonoma County Gazette, and two young daughters. You can see his productions at www.facebook.com/RealEndofZeWorld.

He was motivated to make the use-your-vote videos by The Climate Center, which is based in Sonoma County, and one of its significant supporters, Sebastopol’s Charlie Pendergast, an arts advocate and publisher of poetry and art books.

A fan of Windsor’s work, Pendergast earlier this year approached The Climate Center and offered to donate $25,000 to have Windsor produce a video to encourage Americans to vote in the presidential election. Windsor did.

“It reached 3 million people,” said Ann Hancock, co-founder of the nonprofit climate protection group.

When runoffs were called in the races for both of Georgia’s Senate seats, Pendergast and a second, anonymous donor kicked in additional dollars to have Windsor adapt and parcel his video into smaller, quicker pieces. Among their titles, “Why Choosing to Not Vote is Dumb,” “I Don’t Like Politics,” “Gen Z is Over This S---” and “My Vote Counts.”

Potential voters in Georgia can find them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Hancock said The Climate Center can’t and doesn’t urge people how to vote, but the anti-global warming group is hot to get them to vote.

EAT UP, AND HELP: Normally on the first Thursday of December I’m in downtown Santa Rosa at the beloved Mac’s Deli & Cafe, welcoming patrons to Dining Out for Life.

A major annual fundraising event for Food for Thought, which provides quality nutrition to Sonoma County people dealing with serious illness, the one-day Dining Out for Life seeks donations from participating restaurants and their patrons.

But with the pandemic still raging and restaurants’ indoor dining rooms closed, there can be no Dining Out for Life this year. So Food for Thought is hosting instead Dining IN for Life.

The idea is that supporters order takeout from a participating restaurant, or eat in if there are tables outdoors. There’s a list of the Dining IN for Life restaurants at www.fftfoodbank.org/participating-restaurants.

Diners are requested also to go onto the Food for Thought website, secure.givelively.org/donate/food-for-thought/dining-in-for-life, and make a donation to the Forestville-based nonprofit.

The goal is to raise $100,000 for Food for Thought, and to give a boost to restaurants challenged mightily by not being able to serve indoors.

You can contact Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 or chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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