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SRJC and SSU team up to present 'The Sound of Music'

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If You Go

What: “The Sound of Music,” presented by Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University

When: Nov. 22-Dec. 8. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 22-23, Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 5-7; 1:30 p.m. Nov. 23-24, Nov. 30, Dec. 1 and Dec. 7-8

Where: Evert B. Person Theatre, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park

Admission: $10-$20

Information: 707-527-4307, theatrearts.santarosa.edu

The stage at the Evert Person Theatre on the Sonoma State University campus in Rohnert Park will come alive with “The Sound of Music” this weekend, and the production itself promises to be an interesting duet of sorts.

Originally scheduled to open in the Burbank Auditorium at the Santa Rosa Junior College, where a major renovation has taken longer than anticipated, the show now has become a historic collaboration between the two schools.

Even though the joint venture was forced by delays in the current reconstruction on the junior college campus, the fact is that leaders in the arts at both colleges already were talking about ways for the two schools to work together more closely.

“We didn’t know then where it would lead,” said Kerry Loewen, dean of Arts and Humanities at Santa Rosa Junior College, where he’s been in that role for the past three years. “I just thought, let’s get people together.”

At Sonoma State University, where Hollis Robbins became the school’s dean of Arts and Humanities a year and a half ago, the idea met a warm welcome. Junior college faculty visited the art gallery on the university’s Rohnert Park campus, and personnel from Sonoma State came up for a look at the SRJC culinary program in Santa Rosa, Loewen said.

Still, the new production of “The Sound of Music” marks the first time the two schools have joined forces on the same project.

At SSU, the show scheduled for this fall was canceled because of budget and staffing concerns, said Theo Bridant, technical director for the university’s theater department, who did the same job at SRJC from 1992 until his move to SSU in 2007. He also continues to work at the junior college in a faculty adjunct position, teaching aspiring theater technicians.

So when it became clear that Burbank Auditorium wouldn’t be ready in time for “The Sound of Music” to open there, Bridant saw a chance to move a step closer to the collaboration the two deans had envisioned.

“I was the one who started off the conversation,” Bridant said. The earlier cancellation of the play previously planned at the university’s Person Theatre had “created a hole in our fall schedule. I just opened the door. I was point of contact between the two programs to get their production into our theater.”

Dean Hollis at Sonoma State University said she’s elated that the plan has worked out and the Santa Rosa Junior College student actors and crew can use the Rohnert Park facility.

“It’s so exciting, because they have such a fantastic reputation and the quality of their productions is so high,” Hollis said. “I’d like to see more collaborations because I think SRJC has such a cutting-edge, imaginative way of putting on productions in which students really learn the art of acting. I would want SSU to be where SRJC theater students go on to complete their degrees.”

At least one student is already on that track. Michael Coury Murdock, who plays the leading male role of Capt. von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” is completing his Associate of Arts degree in theater at the Santa Rosa Junior College and plans to transfer to Sonoma State University in January to study music, said the show’s director, Laura Downing-Lee at SRJC.

If You Go

What: “The Sound of Music,” presented by Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University

When: Nov. 22-Dec. 8. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 22-23, Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 5-7; 1:30 p.m. Nov. 23-24, Nov. 30, Dec. 1 and Dec. 7-8

Where: Evert B. Person Theatre, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park

Admission: $10-$20

Information: 707-527-4307, theatrearts.santarosa.edu

The show’s technical crew, mostly made up of junior college students, also includes two students at SSU, she added.

One of the SRJC shows that so impressed Hollis at SSU was “Jesus Christ Superstar,” presented last spring at Maria Carrillo High School because of the ongoing renovation at Burbank Auditorium on the junior college campus. Ariana LaMark, who played Mary Magdalene in that production, stars as Maria in “The Sound of Music.”

The cast of the show includes 33 student actors, including four children age 13 and younger, Downing-Lee said.

“We have quite a cross section, not only in terms of age, but we have actors who are definitely farther removed from us, including one from St. Helena and two from Napa,” she said. “That made the evacuation process during the recent fires very difficult for rehearsals.”

The timing of this production of “The Sound of Music” led to other challenges, beyond on-campus construction in Santa Rosa and fires north and west of town, the director explained.

“This November is the 60th anniversary of the show premiering on Broadway,” Downing-Lee said. “There’s a national tour going on right now, so the rights to the show were not being given to any college productions.”

A passionate written plea by Leslie McCauley — chairwoman and artistic director of the theater and fashion department at Santa Rosa Junior College — citing the community’s hardships coping with repeated wildfires in the region, prompted a reversal of that decision, and the college got the rights to do the show after all.

Under the recently revised schedule, the junior college will stage its first production at the renovated Burbank Auditorium building in March, with a presentation of “The Cripple of Inishmaan” in the structure’s new studio theater. The first show in the auditorium itself will be “The Wedding Singer” in April.

In the meantime, the Person Theatre in Rohnert Park makes an inviting home for “The Sound of Music.”

“We’re so grateful to be down at SSU,” Downing-Lee said. “We enjoy working with the staff there, and we hope it will give our students who are considering a transfer later a chance to get to know the university.”

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.

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