California Community Theatre was lucky enough to get some time 'talking shop' with founder and current producer at Chautauqua Playhouse, Rodger Hoopman. Find out more about this theatre in the Sacramento area, and how Rodger has found several 'recipes for success' and how he's been able to create place where everybody knows your (their patrons') names.
Chautauqua produces a season of six plays per season (running from August through June). I think an ongoing question theatres have is how to create the 'secret recipe' for 'an ideal season.' What determining factors do or did you use to discover that a six-show season was best Chautauqua?
We have a mix that seems to work for us and our audience: older, suburban and conservative. We have expanded to a 7 show season. Usually consisting of 2 traditional, name comedies, 2 “new” comedies, 1 or 2 contemporary edgier dramas and a mystery or thriller. The season mix came from observing and responding to audiences questions and concerns. Over 35 years in our current location we could discern by attendance and comments what our audience was looking for - even as that audience continues to change.
The group has been hailed by the Sacramento Bee as“one of the area's most consistent companies.” What a compliment! Do you strive, specifically for consistency? In what ways are your artistic or administrative leadership consistent?
I founded the group in 1976 and there has been consistent leadership over that period off time. There have only been 2 co-producers over that time. Finding what you’re good at and finding others to cover what you’re not good at has been the key for me and the organization.
You offer a Group Buyout for Fundraisers and Events (wherein special performances of your plays can be purchased for 95 people, and special rates are offered for buying the entire house). Do you advertise with local groups to promote the buyouts? How does the group buyout program help promote collaboration in your community (and if you don't think it currently does, how do you wish/hope it could?)c?
Our buyouts are usually fundraisers where the group makes money for it’s organization or programs. If they come close to selling out it usually comes out to about $1000 for the group and the same amount for the theatre. We usually do 4 - 5 of these a year and they mostly come from board contacts. We are currently reorganizing our board and hope this will lead to more community visibility and increased group sales.
Chautauqua School of Performing Arts is a continuing educational program of the Chautauqua Playhouse. Do you have crossover in the two programs, such as students (or former students) who later audition for Playhouse productions, or parents of Performing Arts students, who learn about your MainStage shows and become patrons? In other words, how do the two distinct programs complement one another?
We pull many students from the workshops into the Children’s productions. Casting is usually a mix of adults and teen children. For the adult season we usually look for one or two shows that have roles for children. Our current production of HOLLYWOOD ARMS has 3 younger roles and we pulled those actors from workshops and children’s productions. We currently have a mother who is on our board of directors and a brother of one of those actors working as a light / sound technician.
Describe your audience - visitors, locals, etc?
Like most audiences our audience is mostly 45 and up. We are in an area which has the most senior residents in the county of Sacramento, so we our programming takes that into account. In our 7 show season reincorporate classic comedies, drama contemporary / “new" comedies and try to incorporate at least one “edgy” piece to attract audiences more interested in that kind of material. We draw our audiences from a larger tri-county area who come a greater distance because they are familiar with our work from our 43 years of producing. We are the oldest community group in the county.
How do you get to know your audience on a personal level?
We greet audiences after every performance and thank them for their attendance. Of our season audience of about 600, I’d say that one of the principals, including myself, know them by name.
What kind of support do you have from your community for your community theatre?
Removed from the central area of Sacramento, we are in a suburban neighborhood, Carmichael. We try to be part of the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Kiwanis, etc. Unfortunately being a smallish organization the bulk of our time is spent trying to stage quality productions. We are currently reconstituting our board with local business and community leaders with those kind of connections.
Have you worked with or been involved with any other California community theatre?
Because we pull from the same pool of actors and directors there is a great crossover. Many of us involved with Chautauqua work directly with other groups and have a great interaction and respect for each others work. Personally, I live in the foothills above Sacramento and work closely with several groups in Grass Valley as an actor and director. I find working with other groups is energizing and gives you a new perspective.
What do you think 'makes' community theatre community theatre?
It really is the element of everyone working toward the common goal of making good theatre accessible financially and locally. The audience seems to really enjoy the fact that community theatre, at it’s best, offers professional quality performances with “hometown” commitment and enthusiasm.
The Chautauqua Players were formed in 1975, by Rodger Hoopman. The name of the company came from the traveling Chautauqua shows that toured the country in tents in the early part of the 20th century. A revival tent had been offered to the company as a potential performing space in the summer of 1975. After one attempt at setting up the tent and the myriad problems involved (eight hours of work, putting the top on upside down and returning the next day to find the tent collapsed), the tent idea collapsed as well.
In the fall of 1975, the Chautauqua Players produced their first show, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, in the Old Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento, and its success led to production of a Sherlock Holmes drama. The financial success of the two productions led Hoopman to a partnership with Gene Morrow and Eric Ericson and the pursuit of their own performing space.
The original 65-seat Chautauqua Playhouse opened at 25th and R Streets in downtown Sacramento in April of 1976. On the 12’x20’ stage in the former warehouse, the company produced mysteries, Moliere comedies, and contemporary comedies and dramas to critical and audience acclaim. Over the next several years, as the repertory became more contemporary, Morrow and Ericson left the partnership and new partner Charles Slater enabled the Playhouse to expand to 135 seats and a larger stage in 1980.
With the support of the Carmichael Recreation and Parks District and the theatre’s new board of directors, the Chautauqua Playhouse opened its first full season in September of 1985 with Rodger Hoopman as producer and Bill Rogers, instrumental in the transition, as general manager.
Since that first season, Chautauqua has produced a season of six plays per season (running from September through May) plus a six-show children’s theatre season under the direction of Marie Raymond. There is also a children’s theatre workshop in voice, drama and dance conducted in Spring, Fall and Summer sessions. Classes are on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.
Bill Rogers left the theatre in June 2004, to move to South Carolina and Rodger Hoopman assumed the position of Producer/Artistic Director. After years of involvement as an actor and director, Warren Harrison joined the organization as co-producer in January of 2007.
Season subscribers and the theatre-going community enjoy a variety of new and traditional comedies, dramas, original plays and musical reviews, with a wide range of ethnic and cultural appeal. The group has been hailed by the Sacramento Bee as “one of the area's most consistent companies.”