Truckee Community Theater

We are a brand new organization in terms of our non-profit status! We just became a 501(c)3 theater company in July.

I am the Producing Artistic Director. I originally hailed from San Diego County, where I taught

middle school Literature and Language Arts for 22 years. For all those years, and for ten years

before that, I also directed and choreographed plays and musicals, both at the community theater

level and at my school sites.

For those with an educational background, the value of this is immediately apparent. At a school, there IS no costume designer, no lighting designer, no set designer, no technical director, etc. As a result, a person doing shows for a school must wear many hats and become widely proficient in all theatrical areas. And this very mix of roles, including producing the plays, was preparing me in ways I could never have imagined for a retirement up in Truckee (people laugh at that one!) in which I was able to tackle the presentation of major shows without any undue stress, and thoroughly enjoy the process of watching our group grow!

I began by working with our local Recreation and Parks Department, signing on in 2012 as a contract instructor, and producing a series of Broadway musical revues starring local kids.

This lead to a production of “Annie” in June of 2013 with a cast of adults and kids numbering 74. We planned two shows, we sold out three weeks before the first performance. We added two shows, we sold out again.

The following year in 2014, we did “Oklahoma”, six shows, full houses, and began to talk about creating an actual non-profit with a board of directors and the ability to seek funding and donations. We also produced “The Miracle Worker”, a “risk” show that did very well, and convinced us we really needed to pursue the formal non-profit designation.

In January of 2015, we incorporated, forming a terrific board in which more than half of our eight members came from the business community, and had little or no background in theater. I feel this has contributed significantly to whatever success we are having this year. We have a board member who is an expert on website design. One with thirty years experience in graphic design for arts and sports groups in San Francisco Bay Area. One with tremendous background in social media. And a former accountant who came to us after four years as treasurer of another local arts non-profit. Mixed with others with theater background, it’s an exciting group; lots of heated discussions, lots of “No, that can’t work because...”, but a true case in point of the old idea that working as a team can lead to better decisions overall.

As the head of the organization (I advise but do not vote on the Board), I have, until this year, directed and produced the shows. This year, we took the leap and brought on a new young director for “Into the Woods, Jr.”, our first Youth Theater production, and a local actor with a minor in directing from UCLA who tackled “The Crucible”, and did a wonderful job. This fall, I am directing a holiday show of one act plays, and I have produced all three productions.

Although we have been very successful, the graphic designer and I are utterly exhausted by the pace...three shows in three months! For 2016, we have decided to scale back to four shows a year, concentrate on plays that will bring in lots of people so we can build our audience and increase our financial base. That will also allow me to do more grants and our group to focus more on fundraising.

We are at the top of the snowy hill right now in terms of community awareness, rolling down and picking up snow and speed. I use this analogy because that’s what it feels like. All of a sudden, a local business wants to donate to our non-profit and give us a free radio spot. The local papers are sending reporters to interview us and doing feature stories about some of our shows. We are beginning to get queries from other directors interested in getting on board. It feels to me like good progress, and that if we can sustain the high quality of our shows, over the next few years we are likely to have lots of patrons who enjoy the productions and come on a regular basis, and perhaps then the press and expense of advertising will ease up a bit!

On the question of the weather, I had to cancel a rehearsal tonight due to a snowstorm. But interestingly, it is the first time I have had to do that in three and a half years! We won’t have another play until June, so weather, so far, has not been an issue.

Our audience is mostly locals from Truckee, Tahoe, and Reno. However, this summer we put on a Broadway-style concert in our Regional Park, which over 500 people attended, and many were second home owners. I think our publicity blitz really helped with that...we had posters, banners, postcards, a great publicity article in the paper, and put several hundred “rack cards” at local hotels. For us in a small town where people talk to each other to get information on things, these types of communication are invaluable. We also use Facebook, Instagram, and Constant Contact.

Our cast meets the audience in the hall after every show, which everyone enjoys. We also host free school days shows for local kids and teachers, which include scenes from the current show, an educational talk by the director, and a “talk back” at the end. This is how we get to know our audience face to face...we also do surveys every couple of shows to see what they would like us to present in the future.

We have been delighted with the support we are experiencing right now. We are members of the local Chamber of Commerce, and have had some excellent inservice training on board governance and fundraising. We won a $5,000 equipment grant from a local community foundation. We have received financial support from the Soroptimists, the Rotary Club, and the Optimists Club. We are currently the only community theater group in town, and the only one in the greater Tahoe basin to regularly cast residents of all ages in our shows. I think businesses and service organizations appreciate that and like to support that.

We also have a “Preshow” before every spring musical featuring kids between the ages of six and fifteen. The children perform a Broadway choral medley fully choreographed with lights and props. It gives them a chance to be in the spotlight with singing and dancing solos, as those cast in the adult musical may not have very much significant stage time. This has been very popular and very fun for us, and we have averaged about 70 kids per Preshow each year of the three years we have done this. Four our 2015 production of “The King and I”, the kids’ Preshows were “The Sound of Music” for the little ones ages 6 through 9, and “Mary Poppins” for those kids 10 through 15. We frequently put adults into the key adult roles in these, but the kids are most definitely the stars, and I feel this practice has helped us earn the support of many in our community.

When we were just getting started, I contacted my dear, old friend Lisa Robinson, who, with Delnora Janacek, runs “Center Stage Productions”, a youth theater group, in Escondido, California. Their company is more that ten years old, and has been very successful. Lisa acted as our mentor, giving me lots of advice, lots of forms I could adapt and use, and some amazing ideas that we implemented right away! Other than our affiliation with her group, we have not had a chance yet to network with others, but would surely love to.

I believe what makes a community theater different from a professional theater is the educational aspect of it. We take in actors who have perhaps not been on a stage since high school, or, with the kids, who have never been on a stage. We teach them performance skills, we teach them how to work as part of a team. We expect everyone to work very hard on their roles, to concentrate at rehearsals, to come prepared, to support each other at all times. We expect everyone to treat each other like family. We want our actors to feel joy onstage and off. We want all of them, young and old alike, to be thrilled to be part of one of our shows. If we can accomplish this along with presenting excellent plays and musicals to an enthusiastic audience, we will wear our community theater badge with pride!

I am indeed a California native. I grew up in Berkeley, California, graduating from Berkeley High in 1969. I owe much of my passion for theater to my old drama teacher, Jay Manley, who was pushing the envelope with his young students by presenting high school productions of Bertolt Brecht, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare. I was a theater major at San Francisco State University in the early 70’s, and also attended UCLA and studied drama there a few years later. I directed my first play in 1982, a production of the captivating farce “Dames at Sea”, and have never looked back!

Courtney Simson

Production Artistic Director, Truckee Community Theater

Truckee Community Theater

Truckee, CA

http://www.truckeecommunitytheater.com/

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