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KEEPING THEATER IN SEBASTOPOL:MAIN STAGE WEST BRINGS DIFFERENT TROUPES TOGETHER AT ONE VENUE

Sebastopol is a small town, but for years its theater group has cast a large shadow. When Pease Pharmacy closed years ago, the building was turned into a theater, and two companies occupied it at different times.

Main Stage West took over just six months ago, but has already made an impact. Many credit that to the determination of Beth Craven and her love of theater. How did you come to form Main Stage West?

I learned that Sonoma County Repertory Theater had fallen on hard times and was leaving. If this spot became a store or coffee shop, we would lose theater here forever. Even building a small space from scratch would cost millions. I didn't want to lose it, so I started telephoning everyone I knew or knew about.

What did you do?

I formed a nonprofit, an official 501(c)(3) called PACT, Performing Artists Coalition for Theater. I pulled together some dedicated individuals and a half-dozen small theater companies, some of which have theaters of their own elsewhere.

How long did that take?

Just three weeks, an intense three weeks. That's all the time the landlord could afford to give us. So I hit the road running.

What companies are in it?

The Imaginists. They are performing "The Caretaker" right now. There's Heritage Theater, First Look Sonoma, an opera company that produces chamber opera, Ensemble Company and the Sebastopol Shakespeare Company. There also are some independent artists. We run the theater together.

How does it work?

I am producing artistic director, and Keith Baker is managing artistic director. Everett Chambers has helped us develop a great checklist. He's a retired television producer who produced the "Colombo" series.

Keith and I go down the checklist and make sure everything is done, from publicity to front of the house that seats people. We inherited a terrific volunteer coordinator, Micheline Justman, and a group of wonderful volunteers. A company will schedule a production. Imaginist had produced "The Caretaker" for their own theater in Santa Rosa, for example. Then they brought it here.

Is there a big enough audience to support Main Stage West?

Sebastopol was in shock when the Rep closed. It has taken the town a little while to get the word that we are here, but it's happening now. Our philosophy is that we want to own our own small audience from Sebastopol and the surrounding small towns in the west county. We have short runs; some plays are only on two weeks. We draw from our own area and don't want to impinge on companies that have their own small theaters in places like Santa Rosa or Petaluma.

How big is Main Stage West?

We have 75 seats and a bench for overflow.

Are all your productions theater?

We have some music. We've had three acoustic concerts, some with very well known artists, and the opera performances.

What's your background ?

I was born in New York and grew up in New England. My parents were in the hotel business. I grew up like Eloise in the children's book, a hotel kid. My husband and I were very involved in theater in the '70s. We came to California not to do theater, but I couldn't stay away. I had to do it. He teaches Art Quest Theater at Santa Rosa High School, and I taught theater for 10 years at Sonoma State University. I ran the Sixth Street Theater for four years.

What is it about theater that draws you?

It's truly my life's work. Through theater, you learn everything: politics, science, human nature. It's even a church of sorts where people come together. It has to excite me. There's no money in it. I always tell students if you can find real happiness doing something else, go for it. Do you act in any of the productions?

I don't act anymore. I direct.

What are your plans for the future?

The first six months, we developed the production end of things. Next we will develop the education part, design classes and get set up for teaching.

Production-wise we have some exciting things happening. On Oct. 7 and 8, we have a Grammy winner performing "Joe Hill's Last Will." It's two nights only as he is a busy performer, and we have had to raise prices for the event to $40 a ticket. Then later in the month, we are having a Gothic double bill. "We Heart You, Nosferatu," which is Romanian for vampire. It's a one-act with two housewives who discover a vampire using Skype.

It is followed by a screening of the 1922 film "Nosferatu" with a live musical score by Dave McNab. It will run through Halloween. That will be back to our regular ticket prices of $20 general, and $15 for seniors and students.

That's not much more than a movie ticket.

We want to make theater accessible.

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