The theater had become the home of several local theater groups. Much labor and resources by Bethany’s student body and a group of local theater advisers had been put into upgrading the rather decrepit theater. Better lighting systems, sound boards, a newly designed stage and a proscenium had been added. For a few years, people had to sit in folding chairs, until the building was fitted with a fire sprinkler system. Finally, the comfortable seats donated by a Vegas hotel were installed.
We have spacious athletic fields, parks, a skate park and an extraordinary new library. We have a senior center and a community center. Scotts Valley’s lack of a public theater is a glaring absence, a subtle statement about the general decline in appreciation for theater in our common culture.
This is a sad fact that we confront every year when producing Youth Shakespeare. While in Shakespeare’s day, women were forbidden to perform on stage, in our day, the girls play the men. There is a serious lack of young males encouraged to get involved with theater. It is perceived as a “girl thing.” How unfortunate. Those brave young men who learn to act will bring to their adult lives innumerable skills and talents picked up on stage that they would not acquire in other endeavors.
Acting builds memory skills and spatial awareness. It increases vocabulary and language acquisition, and, of course, it builds self-confidence. Young actors learn empathy and the power of the spoken word. A director can show a young actor 10 different ways to say the words, “Come with me.” Each way will provide a nuance not gleaned from simply reading the words. And what better way to learn history than to be thrust into it as a real player? Talk about teamwork — it doesn’t get any better than a dedicated ensemble working hard to bring a poignant story to life on the stage.
Another indication of theater’s decline is the composition of the audiences. I recently took my two young granddaughters to see Cabrillo College’s lively production of “The Mikado.” It was advertised as fun for all ages. They thoroughly enjoyed it. Who else was there? “A bunch of old people,” I said to myself upon looking around. Where were the teenagers, children, the young adults? Things are not much different at Shakespeare Santa Cruz. It worries me.
I maintain that having a community theater enriches the community immeasurably. Local theater groups, schools and service clubs benefited from Bethany’s availability and reasonable usage fees. Thousands of all ages walked through its doors annually and were either entertained or found a place to share their artistic visions.
We can’t all get to NYC, London or even San Francisco. We will never meet national icons like Hugh Jackman or Meryl Streep. But we can see the local high school drama teacher transformed into a frog. Our next-door neighbor can wow us with his voice. Grandma can transform herself into an evil Japanese demon. Our classmates can pronounce words only seen on paper, if seen at all. Local writers, artists, directors and technicians can have a place to be. Most importantly, stories can come to life before our eyes. The stories that make us think, laugh, cry, and wonder. The stories that are never told the same way twice, that are never set in stone, as in a movie.
So what is the future of theater in Scotts Valley? Shall we sit on the sidelines acquiescing to the fear that theater is a dying institution, or shall we rally and shout its praises, with hope and determination, to the highest mountains (our civic and business leaders). Theater must live on in our community. Many of us have been working tirelessly to share with you its uncommon gifts. But we need a place in Scotts Valley. And we are confident that if you build it, they will come.
Trish Melehan is a Scotts Valley arts commissioner, a member of the Scotts Valley Performing Arts board of directors and the program director of SVPA Youth Shakespeare.