Sierra Stages

Sierra Stages is a community theater which enriches the cultural life of Nevada County by providing high quality, affordable and accessible performances for everyone.

My name is Ken Getz. I’m currently a board member for Sierra Stages Community Theatre, and also its Music Director. Sierra Stages was formed as a not-for-profit community theater company in 2010, and has performed over 30 fully staged shows since, mostly musicals.

What types of fundraising events have you been involved with, particularly those in which you collaborated with a number of local nonprofit organizations? (as stated on your website)

Sierra Stages has been involved in several types of fundraising events. Some raised events for our own theater group, others helped raise funds for other non-profits. For example, we created a revue of Broadway songs featuring women in a revue called “In Want it All: A Broadway Revue Celebrating Women” a few years back. This was a successful event, both artistically and with the community—everyone volunteered their services, and except for paying ASCAP/BMI for the rights to the songs and renting the space, all other proceeds were donations. We have collaborated with the Miners Foundry in events that help raise funds for their projects, and twice have performed musical events to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity. When we performed Avenue Q a few years back, we collected funds after each performance that we donated to a local homeless shelter (the show deals peripherally with homelessness). We started our theater company by collaborating on shows with the Miners Foundry, and also, the Center for the Arts. In both cases, our proceeds helped support us and and the organization as well. It was a great way to “bootstrap” the theater company.

Sierra Stages has produced two musicals for local elementary schools: Stone Soup and The Quiltmaker’s Gift. What was the experience like performing for schools, and how did the performances benefit the students who attended?

Although the logistics are difficult, we loved doing these two shows for local schools. Finding adults to perform who were available during the day, and who were willing to perform for the children, was a difficult task. We knew that local elementary school children were not seeing much “adult” theater (that is, shows performed by adults), so we tried to reach out to all the local elementary schools. Each time, we did 4 to 6 performances over two days; each time, the kids loved the performances, and we got a lot of great questions about the shows, the stories, and the performances from the audiences. We performed Stone Soup with live piano accompaniment, and Quiltmaker’s Gift with recorded music. Kids loved the live music—many had never seen anything quite like it. We would do this again in a heartbeat, if we could find the right shows—as we found, it’s extremely difficult to find musical productions aimed at children that aren’t expensive to license, and are intellectually stimulating for both adults and children.

You have a great list of Business Sponsors for your current season; what's been the most successful method to cultivate business sponsor relationships?

It’s all about personal relationships. People come to see the shows, and they want to help out. Our board is not a fund-raising board, and we’re not focused on bringing in money. We certainly appreciate our business sponsors, and we do work to keep them happy and engaged, but we’re not especially good at it. We wish we were… We’re just so lucky to have the sponsors that we do.

Can you tell us a little about your series of informal play readings, Theater By the Book?

There are always a ton of plays we’d like to do, but can’t fit into a normal season. Plays that are “edgy,”, experimental, or great plays that are technically too difficult to mount are excellent candidates. We have done musicals (our first reading was the children’s show, Stone Soup, written by a local, extremely popular, musician, that we later toured in a full production to schools), including the complex Ordinary Days, which we’re mounting as a full production this fall. In general, musicals are too much effort to learn for just a single performance, so we aim for straight plays for the most part. We’ve done everything from Shakespeare to “Dracula” to “Hand to God” and “The Laramie Project” as readings. Sometimes, we simply have the actors stand at music stands and move very little; other times, the director has the actors staged as if performing a full play. No sets ever, very little in the way of costumes and props. Audiences seem to love these chances to see plays they wouldn’t otherwise get to experience, and actors love the chance to act in a play that requires very little rehearsal. We advertise that the events are free, with a $10 suggested donation. Almost everyone pays at least $10. We bake some dessert each time (I’m a pretty good baker!) and there’s a cash bar. All in all, it’s a wonderful program, and although it’s always more effort than we think it will be, it’s always worth it! We do these 5 or 6 times per year, on Wednesday evenings.

What is the community of Nevada City like?

Nevada City/Grass Valley are “sister” cities in the Sierra foothills, about an hour from Sacramento and 90 minutes from Reno. There are 100,000 people in the county, and it’s generally a small town—we rarely go out anywhere without running into someone we know. The arts are strongly supported here. Visual arts, dance, music, drama; it’s all here. It’s an odd mix of urban and rural cultures, with lots of transplants from the Bay Area and other big cities, mixed with the locals who have lived here all their lives and remember before there was a freeway through town. We have two large community choruses, currently 5 community theater producing organizations, two classical music presenters, a zillion local garage and professional bands, and more. It’s a seriously vibrant arts community.

Describe your audience - visitors, locals, etc?

During the summer, we get a lot of visitors coming to our shows. We tend to do “large” musicals in the summer (Avenue Q, The Producers, The Music Man, Chicago), and these draw a lot of out-of-towners in addition to the locals. All those pretty much sold out every seat. During the rest of the year, we get mostly locals, and shows are less likely to sell out. But the locals support theater and the arts with a passion. We’re very lucky.

How do you get to know your audience on a personal level?

Hard to say. We talk to a lot of folks on the phone—as a rural community, internet service is flaky here, so a lot of folks can’t buy tickets online. As a community with a lot of retirees, we get a lot of folks who don’t want to buy tickets online. In any case, we end up talking to lots of people. In addition, we attend tons of community events, including other theatrical productions, musical events, and social events. Personally, I’m not terribly social, but I do try to get out and meet people. We are not big “promoters”: our concept has always been that if you do good work, people will come. It has worked for us. I also sing in one of the community choruses—a great way to meet people!

What kind of support do you have from your community for your community theatre?

Well, we have a large list of donors and sponsors, and of course, a lot of ticket buyers. People are supportive of all the arts organizations locally—it’s pretty amazing!

Have you worked with or been involved with any other California community theatre?

Sierra Stages collaborated with another local theater company, CATS (Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra), for a production of King and I in 2011. Before that, I worked with several community theaters as a pianist and music director in San Jose during the 80s and 90s.

What do you think 'makes' community theatre community theatre?

From our perspective, we focus on casting and working with local actors, musicians, and technical staff. If we can’t cast locally, we tend to just not do a show. This is important to us, and part of our working plan.

Are you a California native?

I am now! Grew up in Houston, and then lived in Boston for 12 years before landing in California. Been here since 1986, and don’t plan to ever leave!

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