Learn about Willits Community Theatre, a a venue for concerts, dance performances and community events, as well as producer/presenter of live theatre throughout the year.
Kitty Norris, and key folks from the organization answer questions and share the story of this 42-year old organization serving Mendocino, Humboldt, Sonoma and Lake Counties.
Kitty Norris is WCT's PR committee person and Treasurer, and also the the Producer of the Guest Artists Series, at WCT, which started in her house as house concerts.
For many years, Willits Community Theatre (WCT) was led by a single Artistic Director. Now, an Artistic Direction Committee of six persons selects each season. What is the season selection process like, and how are members of the Artistic Direction Committee chosen?
WCT currently has a 9 person Artistic Direction Committee which is selected by committee members. The committee includes some members of the board of directors of the theatre, but also play directors, actors, playwrights, and occasionally other production crew members. In 2018, the artistic committee instituted “term limits” of five years, with a mandatory two-year fallow period between terms.
In late winter of the year that is two years prior to the target year, (that is, the year for which plays are being chosen), the committee chair sends out a letter to prospective local stage directors, asking that they submit to the committee the names of three plays that they would like to direct for our theatre company.
The committee then reads the plays and discusses them. Lots of different factors enter into the deliberations of the committee, including the competence of the director, the message of the script, the appeal of the script, the potential that the play can be cast locally, the aptness of any “star” actors relative to this or that script, as well as production obstacles and the possibility that these obstacles can be overcome.
Usually some combination of directorial talent and the brilliance of the script convince the committee to anchor the season with one or two plays. Other strong contenders are voted on to the season, often because they help to create a balanced season that will offer an array of theatrical entertainment to a wide audience. The five-play season is submitted to the Board of Directors in July and is usually approved that month, or in the following month. The Willits Community Theatre observes a “season’ that is based on the calendar year. Hence, the season that began with the letter going out in December 2016, and that was put together in the spring of 2017, will be produced throughout 2018. (MIke A’Dair, Production Manager)
WCT serves as a venue for concerts, dance performances and community events. What are your most successful events? In what ways does your venue serve as a way to connect your community?
One of the things I grew up with was the Community Concert Series. Willits Community Theatre has become the host for my own version of this, which we call the Guest Artists Performance Series. I specialize in hosting traveling artists from all over, a collection of truly world-renowned guest artists, to our stage and to our community. The response has been excellent! Our music is international in flavor and origin, as is our dance. We love to take recommendations from our community, and to be welcoming to all.
"We do our best to provide a balanced and diverse menu of offerings, to match the diversity of interests in our community." - Kitty Norris
WCT offers its stage on a rental basis, and collaborates with schools and other groups who can utilize the facility. When or how did WCT transition from producing plays only to incorporating these collaborations and serving as a rental venue? What are the challenges and advantages of sharing your space with outside groups?
We have always offered our facility as a rental and a collaborative space. Advantages: We are a community service organization, so this is a natural. When we bring in schools and youth we are making our well- equipped facility available to the future? Challenges: providing available skilled tech operators & staffing for whatever needs our collaborators may have for smooth, safe, efficient operation of the facility. (Kitty & Beth)
You have a very thorough and user-friendly website. Who is responsible for maintaining the content, and how do you feel your website helps your theatre thrive?
Thank you for the high compliment! I (Kitty) maintain the website, and work on it almost daily. I also maintain the Facebook page, daily. They seem to work as a team to inform & promote our offerings. The website needs to be in a mobile friendly format, for the visually oriented. It needs to be mentioned constantly and promoted well. Links need to be live, content current, and inquiries need to be responded to promptly. When I took it over, it was moribund, disorganized & in code. It was difficult to keep it current as it required qualified volunteers. A website that is not kept current is a liability. I worked with a web designer to completely redo the website. We chose to use Wordpress, which is easy for anyone to maintain.
I see you have a several local businesses that serve as season sponsors or show underwriters. Do you have any tips for soliciting and cultivating these supporters?
It is all about relationships! This is a very small town, relatively isolated by the gorgeous mountains that give so much charm and beauty to this region. We succeed and thrive as a community. When we read the names of our sponsors and underwriters at the start of every performance, the audience never fails to applaud each of the names. We thank them at every opportunity, in person, on stage, online, on the theatre walls, on posters and playbills. We recommend them to our personal contacts, take all our personal business to them, regularly, and thank them for their support every time we do.
"It is all about relationships!" - Kitty Norris
What are some ways WCT offers hands-on opportunities to learn technical and stagecraft skills?
In the coming year, WCT will offer a hands-on workshop in lighting design. Creek and I produce the Guest Artists Performance Series, as volunteers. Creek has taught himself to do lights, sound and video. He trains selected volunteer assistants in these skills, and enables them to continue to work the equipment independently. Our youth program offers introduction to stagecraft and tech skills. We’ve also had a Master Class series where we’ve featured local experts teaching these skills.
Describe your audience - visitors, locals, etc?
Locals - which means from many miles around, and the nearest towns. We personally offer use of our season tickets to our house guests, and they’ve been impressed with the quality of our shows. We’ve also taken our houseguests to Guest Artist Series concerts.
"Bay Area family and friends drove several hours to see the recent Christmas play. Because of the kids in the pageant, we had visitors from as far away as Los Angeles, Washington state and Idaho!" -TinaMarie
How do you get to know your audience on a personal level?
"This is a very small town, so everyone wears a lot of hats, here. At the theatre itself, we love to socialize before shows, afterwards and during intermissions. We have occasional parties, and also an annual gala. Community is our middle name, and we consider ourselves a community service organization. We treasure input and suggestions from our community members. We've been fortunate enough to have some excellent patron-recommended Guest Artists on our stage." - Kitty Norris
We do all we can to encourage diverse individuals and groups to feel at home in our theatre. One of our most fun events is the annual Monologues production. Individuals present short original monologues on stage, often sharing personal experiences and reflections on life and events. It is fun, challenging and popular.
What kind of support do you have from your community for your community theatre?
Community is our middle name, of course. We’ve been fortunate to feature many of our very talented local playwrights, musicians, poets, creative writers and dancers. One of the things I grew up with was the Community Concert Series. Willits Community Theatre has become the host for my own version of this, which we call the Guest Artists Performance Series. I specialize in hosting well known traveling artists from all over the world, to our stage and to our community.
Have you worked with or been involved with any other California community theatre?
Our theatre has shared productions with a couple of neighboring theatres, very fun and satisfying! (Kitty)
What do you think 'makes' community theatre community theatre?
"Giving every day, normal people, of all ages, the chance to perform in a supportive environment. Something not everyone will ever have the chance to do in a big city." - TinaMarie
A dedicated attitude of Community Service makes all the difference, in my humble opinion.