Ferndale Repertory Theatre

Leira V. Satlof, Artistic Producing Director talks to California Community Theatre about Ferndale Repertory Theatre in Ferndale. Learn about this exciting theatre and Leira's connections to Northern California.

Leira V. Satlof, Artistic Producing Director

Your website shows your season and show sponsors - a very impressive list of local businesses supporting FRT. I think the idea of pursuing sponsorships can seem daunting to some theatres. Do you have a formal sponsorship program to identify and pursue sponsorships? What do you think is the key to successes in cultivating a list of sponsors?

Finding sponsor support is about relationships. We have perhaps one or two businesses who are donating because they are interested in the advertising that comes with sponsorship, but most of our sponsors donate to the theatre because they know someone (board member, community actor, staff) who works with us and just want to be helpful. Our board of directors work diligently to identify individuals and business with a potential interest in Ferndale Rep. As Artistic Producing Director I support my board in developing those relationships, providing them with information, taking meetings, getting to know the potential sponsors. It takes time and focused energy to succeed.

Ferndale Rep uses the website 'Lotsa Helping Hands' for volunteer signups and I presume scheduling, too. How helpful is it to use a program like this to keep a volunteer program organized?

Using a volunteer management web-service, especially a free one, is a big help to manage certain types of volunteer groups. We use Lotsahelpinghands for our front of house volunteers mostly because there is another local theatre who has been using it for quite some time and we share a large number of volunteers. The site is pretty easy to use and some of our volunteers really like the breadth of information they can get through the website. We can email reminders and instructions which some volunteers read. But that web-based system does not "solve" our volunteer problems. We still have to make phone calls, give instructions personally, and generally develop relationships (there is that word again!) to get our volunteer needs met.

Leira Satlof, Pete and Maryann Bansen at REPFEST 2016. The Bansens are long time sponsors and supporters of FRT.

Your annual fundraiser and gala (REPFEST, which includes entertainment, the announcement of our volunteer of the year, and live and silent auctions) is coming up in March. What is your favorite part of either planning or the gala itself?

My favorite part of Repfest is that I don't have to do very much to prepare and I love to attend the event. It is great to get a chance to meet and enjoy the company of our friends and patrons. Repfest, which represents about %15 of our annual income is entirely planned by my board and community volunteers. They do a great job every year! Taking care of everything from soliciting donations for auction items to roping their friends into coming and spending money. All that said, our gala is one of many, many events like this in our area and I worry that there is going to be donor burn out in our community as the same people are asked to attend events like ours for several important non-profits in our area. I had a board member say to me last week, "We get so many invitations, we could go to a gala fundraiser every weekend of the year."

All My Sons was produced at FRT in January of 2017, I played Kate. Photo credit Dan Tubbs.

What do you consider one of FRT's greatest successes - either a specific production or season, or a turning point or milestone reached, for example?

The last several years have been full of milestones for FRT. We have spent a lot of time and energy on the comfort of our patrons. We have done a LOT of remodeling, room by room, in the last four years. We have installed ADA compliant bathrooms. We improved our backstage area and added a deck where actors can relax during rehearsal and performance. Last summer we repainted the house and installed new seats and carpet. We also expanded our lobby and concessions area and added a kegerator so we can now serve local beer and cider on tap.

Of course, those physical improvements matter very little if the productions are not of high quality. I am so very proud of the 100s of community directors, designers, actors and technicians who have worked with us last four years. We have produced 20 shows we can be proud of, and the hard work has meant a doubling of our audience attendance. Now we just have to figure out how to keep up that good work without burning out. That is a challenge!

Mary Jane the Musical, Dell'Arte International 2015.

Describe your audience - visitors, locals, etc?

While Ferndale is a tourist destination (https://www.visitferndale.com) most of our patrons are local to Humboldt County. We do sell some tickets to tourists who are thrilled to find high quality theatre in a town with a population of 1400 people. About half of our patrons come from Eureka, about 15 minutes away. The other half come from all over the county and believe me we work very hard to be worth the drive!

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

The general support for community theatre is strong here in Humboldt County as evidenced by the number of theatres we have here. There are four companies just in the Humboldt Bay area, and several more a little further out. We also have Humboldt State University and Dell'Arte International in the area. I have heard it said that Humboldt County has more artists per capita than anywhere in the country. That might be true! The theatres certainly try to support one another by sharing information and materials.

Leira V. Satlof, Artistic Producing Director

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

I was born in Manhattan, and came to California when I was five, so I sure feel like a native. I have been involved in both professional and community theatre since I was a child. My mother, Jane Hill, is a founder of Dell'Arte International which started in 1971, on 40 acres in the backwoods of southern Humboldt County that my family owned. Students came from the SF bay area to study with my step father Carlo Mazzone-Clementi for the summer and eventually my family bought a building in Blue Lake and the school and professional touring company were formed.

My connections to Ferndale Repertory Theatre are long and strong as well. It is amusing to me that in 1972, when Ferndale Little Theatre as it was known then was just starting out, they hosted the Dell'Arte Company and I was a stagehand and performer on that tour. I was ten! In the 1980's, when I was getting my MFA from Humboldt State I directed several productions at Ferndale Repertory Theatre as part of my degree work. I even got married on the FRT stage! While that marriage did not survive, I am very glad that my relationship with the theatre has and I am trilled to be FRT's Artsitic Producing Director.

A very special thanks to Leira V. Satlof for her time and participation in this article.

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