Four Star Theater Alliance celebrates Ventura County talent
By John Hankins
Santa Paula News
Published: January 30, 2013
In the six years since the Four Star Theater Alliance was a mere idea, it has flourished with cooperation and enthusiasm of six theaters, topped off with a glamorous annual show that gives out coveted awards.
It’s an alliance that benefits the public because the quality of live theater heightens considerably. “It helps you grow and fosters the best practices and techniques,” said Shawn Lanz of the Conejo Players Theatre.
The countywide celebration of the 2012 season on Sunday (Jan. 20) featured awards from 30 productions crafted by six theaters that included musicals, dramas and comedies. A full list is on Facebook at “Four Star Theater Alliance.”
Clearly showing that live theater in Ventura County is vibrant, exciting and relevant, judges from theaters other than their own chose the most “Outstanding Overall Productions” from each. Those outstanding plays and the producers are:
• Camarillo Skyway Playhouse - “1776” - Jolyn Johnson
• Conejo Players Theatre - “Singing in the Rain” - Christy Miller
• Elite Theatre Company - “The Woman in Black” - Tom Eubanks
• High Street Arts Center - “Hairspray” - Ken Rayzor
• Ojai Art Center Theater - “And Then There Were None” - Frank James Malle
• Santa Paula Theater Center - “Elephant’s Graveyard” - Fred Helsel and Leslie Nichols
“We’ve become a high-class event,” said Frank James Malle of Ojai ACT who, along with Leslie Nichols of SPTC, helped the idea become reality. “And the level of entertainment each year is up,” he added.
That was evident at the annual celebration in which each theater presented a song or scene in between the awards.
It was sometimes hard to tell what got the biggest applause: CPT’s three-person tap dance song of “Good Morning” from “Singing in the Rain,” monologues by Taylor Kasch (“Elephant’s Graveyard” SPTC) and Doug Friedlander (“The Miser” ETC), the HSAC cast of “Seussical the Musical” doing “Biggest Blame Fool,” David Stewart of Ojai ACT rocking out with other cast members from “Grease” or CSP’s Randi Saxer and Eric Umali singing “Unworthy of Your Love” from “Assassins.”
The ceremony is always started with a short photomontage of virtually all productions by Steve Grumette that always draws loud cheers and applause. Then come to awards, presented for each theater’s personal best in their season’s productions.
Santa Paula Theater Center’s honorees were as follows:
• Outstanding Lead Performance Male – Eric J. Stein, “Hello, Goodbye”
• Outstanding Lead Performance Female – Cynthia Killion, “Hello, Goodbye”
• Outstanding Featured Performance Male – Dan Tullis, “Elephant’s Graveyard”
• Outstanding Featured Performance Female – Kytriena Payseno, “The Trip to Bountiful”
• Outstanding Costume Design – Barbara Pedziwiatr, “The Trip to Bountiful”
• Outstanding Sound Design – Fred Helsel, “Elephant’s Graveyard”
• Outstanding Set Design – Michael Carnahan, “The Trip to Bountiful”
• Outstanding Lighting Design – Gary Richardson, “The Trip to Bountiful”
• Outstanding Direction – Fred Helsel and David Ralphe, “Elephant’s Graveyard”
• Outstanding Overall Production – Fred Helsel and Leslie Nichols, “Elephant’s Graveyard”
Once upon a time, community theaters usually did their own thing without regard to their sister stages. In Ventura County it’s just the opposite. The six theaters loan each other costumes and set pieces and help advertise each other. It has fostered a vital arena where directors, actors and technical people feel more comfortable working with each other and sharing trade secrets.
Dean Johnson of the CSP said he was contacted by some Los Angeles area theater directors who happened to see the joint brochure of all six Ventura theaters advertising each other’s season. “They were jealous of what we’ve done and now want to foster their own alliance,” he said.
Perhaps Shawn Lanz - who has been involved in five of the six theaters - said it best: “I love the spirit of cooperation that the alliance fosters and the chance to get to know the other theaters and their people.”