The Plaza Playhouse Theater is a non profit organization
dedicated to enriching the lives of our community
through the theater arts.
We endeavor to be a venue that is the center of performing arts
and entertainment for the entire Carpinteria Valley Community.
THE ALCAZAR - OUR BEGINNING
The Alcazar (the theater’s original name) opened on April 27, 1928. Owner, Henry J. Muller invested $500,000 to build the theater that builder Alex C. D’Alfonso claimed was “As Strong and Sturdy as the Rock of Gibralter”. The opening of the theatre prompted telegrams of congratulations from MGM, Paramount and Christie Films among others to the first proprietor of the theater, long time resident and actor Oliver Prickett (sometimes known as Oliver Blake) of “Ma and Pa Kettle” fame.
Opening night at the Alcazar featured a live band and the premier showing of a comedy “The Fifty-Fifty Girl”....admission was $1.10.
Through the 85 years to follow, the Alcazar changed hands and names...such as the Ritz, the Del Mar, the Tradewinds and for the past few decades, the Plaza Theater, most recently under the management of Metropolitan Theatres.
Now under private direction we begin a new decade as the Plaza Playhouse Theater and look forward to returning our theater to a center of arts and entertainment for the entire Carpinteria Valley community.
Watch a video of Plaza Playhouse Theater's history...
We talked to Melinda Bie of Plaza Playhouse Theater to learn more about this
theatre gem in Carpinteria.
Your calendar is full of classic and current movies, improv workshops, live music, and events. Tell me a little about how the entertainment is chosen and scheduled for the theatre.
The theater is governed by an all volunteer, 7 member board of directors. All of whom bring a different experience or interest in entertainment to the table. We have sub committees that generally decide what goes on our schedule and also work with outside producers to bring shows in. Being the only theater in town, we try to provide a full schedule of entertainment options for all.
Do you have live theatrical performances, and if so, how are those booked - by companies reaching out to you, or vice versa?
Once a quarter the theater produces a play – chosen by our theater committee. We also have a couple of local production companies that occasionally rent the theater for their own play – this happens a couple of times a year.
I loved reading about the theater's history - what a gem for Carpinteria. Do you get a lot of visitors who know about the theater that is “As Strong and Sturdy as the Rock of Gibralter”?
It always amazes us that whenever we do a show and ask for a show of hands as to who is visiting for the first time, we’ll have a large group who raise those hands up. We love that! Once a year we screen “Casablanca” on the anniversary of the theater’s opening (usually last Saturday in April). We screen this movie because our founder, Ollie Prickett, had a non-speaking, bit part as a waiter in the “Blue Parrot”, the watering hole frequented by Bogie’s character in the movie. It’s a really fun evening with a reception prior that includes appetizers and martinis (an homage to the line “Of all the gin joints…). We present the theater’s history and everyone claps for Ollie when he comes on screen. It thrills me no end when I hear people who have been to that show, come into another show and repeat the history of the theater to a new customer.
Perhaps this was already answered above (and is mentioned a bit in the fabulous history video on your website), but what are the visions for the future of the theater? How does the current leadership plan to return the theater to a center of arts and entertainment for the community?
We are in constant fundraising mode. With the last remodel that Metropolitan Theaters did (and they did a fantastic job), the theater was outfitted as mainly a movie house. When we first took over the facility after Metro left, the first thing we did was restore the stage. Our biggest task now is to add a proper green room and backstage bathrooms – an expensive undertaking, but we know that we are very limited in the entertainment we can reasonably provide without these amenities. As far as the center of arts and entertainment – we are the only theater in town, and always have been. My guess is that we always will be too…so we feel a great sense of obligation to provide a full schedule of entertainment to the community. 90% of our board members were born and raised in Carpinteria (myself included), so we know how the community feels about the theater – that it belongs to them. There is a great sense of family in our theater. As with our board, our staff is all volunteer as well – so when you come to a show, whatever it might be, odds are pretty good you’re going to know someone working at concession or taking tickets.
Describe your audience - visitors, locals, etc?
A mix of both…but again, always amazing that see how many locals are coming back for the first time since they were kids. Once we get a visitor, though, they are hooked. I think in this world of megaplexes and 20 screen theaters, people are taken aback in a very good way with the quaintness and warmth of our theater. I honestly feel that Ollie’s dream permeates our walls and just captures people when they come in. We are comfortable and safe – something I think people need these days.
How do you get to know your audience on a personal level?
We engage them the moment they walk in the door – and typically, every show (movies included) are personally introduced by our board member and movie coordinator, Peter Bie. He does this from stage, with the house lights on, so it’s very personal. We sell beer and wine in addition to soda, water, popcorn and candy at concession – all of which are allowed in the theater, this also makes it a more personal feeling – like you were in the comfort of your living room, yet without the distractions that home entertainment can incur.
What kind of support do you have from your community for your community theatre?
Awesome support. For the first time, this summer, we are introducing “Summer Movies for Kids”. Family friendly films that run on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 am. Our intent was to provide another source of entertainment for families during the summer months. I sought sponsors for each film and have had no trouble coming up with them – our community supports us because they know we support them and their children. Our local civic organizations as well as our City Council are also very supportive.
Have you worked with or been involved with any other California community theatres?
No – we’re in kind of a bubble here.
What do you think 'makes' community theatre community theatre?
The key word – community. We are fortunate, we have always been the ONLY theater in Carpinteria, but as locals we know the extreme value of having an amazing venue like this in our back yard and feel as our fellow community members do, that this belongs to all of us and it is up to all of us to keep it flourishing! We are the oldest, continually operating theater between San Francisco and Los Angeles – a claim we don’t want to lose!