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March 1, 2011 > State of the arts

State of the arts

All the World's a Stage and Almost Everyone Likes to Act

By Margaret Talt

Once upon a time, long, long ago, in small places such as Fremont, Union City, Milpitas, and Newark, there lived people who liked to tell stories, and - even better - perform them on stage. Whether stars are born or made is open to discussion, but theatrical groups come and go as surely as oceans ebb and flow.

Cities in this area have a long history of theatrical groups that attracted residents who wished to act. Thankfully, some of the people involved in theater groups have long memories, albums, and mementos too. June Griffin keeps an extensive album collection of news clippings and mementos about theatrical productions in this area and is an excellent information source.

Sue Arnold Murray, Kathy Garfinkle, Knuti VanHoven, and Paul Davis were additional sources of information, also the archives of the Fremont Cultural Arts Council that provided more information and pictures, and, of course, the Internet.

Although spelling of the word theater currently prefers the "er" ending, many theatrical groups preferred the older "re" style in their names, a discrepancy you will notice as you read.

So far, the earliest group identified is Fremont Players, which formed in 1964. The City of Fremont sponsored a Cultural Arts Festival and Conference in 1965. June Griffin has a letter from Preston Homer, city staff liaison to the Festival, thanking her for participating.

Speed along to 1969 through 1971, when a group of teenage girls wanted to do musical performances and formed Mission Misses, which then morphed into the Masque and Wigg Co., adding young men to the mix. Larry j. Linda (Larry used the lower case j), a teacher at Union City's Logan High School, directed their talents.

Then there was the Strawberry Patch Theatre. This group formed in the summer of 1971 and they had so much fun presenting "The Drunkard" that they continued in 1972 as the Fremont Community Theatre and performed "Under the Yum-Yum Tree," "Gypsy," and "Fantasticks." Not only did they perform, the actors also had a long-range goal to establish a cultural arts center in Fremont, something yet to be accomplished.

Who were these merry thespians? Sue Arnold Murray of Fremont, one of the founders of the group, kept publicity articles from 1972. Thanks to Sue, the Fremont Cultural Arts Council now has a record of some of the names to go with publicity posters and pictures the Council has stored all these years.

Recognize any of these names? Dave Motroni, drama teacher and artistic director at American High School, and Craig Jackson, drama professor at Ohlone College, were major movers for this group. Jackson Theater at Ohlone is named for Craig Jackson. Others in the group were Joe Roberts, Bill Mills, Vic, Pat, Lin Adams, and Sharon LaMarche.

Sponsors were designated Honorary Patrons, among them: Dr. Wm. Bolt, Walter O. Davis, Donald W. Drollman, Stephen Eppler, Leon Mezzetti, Sen. Nicholas Petris, and Judge Roy G. Pucci.

In 1972, Fremont Mayor Jack A. Pimentel proclaimed the week of September 8 to September 16 to be Fremont Community Theatre Week. Mayor Pimental, along with Attorney and Councilman Don Drollman, performed in the production of "Under the Yum-Yum Tree," each taking the part of a taxi driver on alternate nights of the production.

Fremont Community Theatre actors in subsequent years performed a variety of plays: melodramas, comedies, and even drama, such as "Night Must Fall." Eventually, as most things do, this group disappeared and others took its place.

Moving on, another set of actors found each other and Have Troupe, Will Travel was born. That was from 1978 to about 1980, and they offered a number of short plays, including "Santa's Little Sugarpuff," written by playwright June Griffin, which she is now adapting into a book. This happy troop performed all over, from Hayward to San Jose and included Yoko Young and Kristi Yamaguchi. Kristi played a robot doll and danced in "Sugarpuff." Fast-forward to 1997 and "Sugarpuff" evolved into a musical performed by still another group, Harmony Players.

Yoko Young formed Fremont Theatrical Association in 1983. FTA's production of "Cinderella" was performed in the beautiful large theatre at the California School for the Deaf, as well as other productions.

After a summer production of Griffin's "The Saga of Sunken Heart" at Ohlone College in 1985, the Community Arts Network combined with Newark Memorial High School students to produce the melodrama again in the school's Memorial Theater. So far no further information has turned up to indicate what other offerings this combination of students and adults offered.

Somewhere in this time period, Fremont Youth Guild, headed by Paula Carr, offered a series of plays. The plays were performed at the Fremont Community Center and at the old Ohlone College Theater before Smith Center was built.

Next came the theatrical group known as Stage 1. This group first performed at Niles Elementary School, presenting "The Impossible Years" about 1988. Early organizers and actors were Jack Harper, group leader, and he led with the help of Sharon de Sousa, Al Fink, Al Perez, and Joe Martinez. Later Stage 1 performers moved to Newark's Memorial High School Theater, where they still perform. Thanks to June Griffin's albums, news clippings show early offerings were "Inspecting Carol" and "Mantrap."

Briefly, Star-Brite Theatre existed and produced "The Little Mermaid" in April 1995 at Valhalla Theatre in Irvington High School.

Although there are many Asian drama groups in the Bay Area representing Indian, Chinese, Taiwanese and other cultural entities, none were found in this area.

Remember, ebb and flow. The City of Fremont Children's Theatre is in its second year and offers "Jungle Book" on April 2nd and 3rd. Children's Musical Theatre is a Sunnyvale adult group that performs programs for children and its tour group sometimes performs at Ohlone College's Smith Center. Rainbow Theatre, established in 1981, is a children's group that performs in the Milpitas Community Center. The next offering is Disney's "Aladdin Jr." in April.

Currently, StarStruck Theatre performs at Ohlone College, Broadway West performs in its Irvington theatre, and Stage 1 continues at Newark Memorial High School Memorial Theater. Stage 1's next offering will be "The Wedding Singer" in July.

StarStruck Theatre, created in 1995 by Lori Stokes, a Fremont resident, was originally named Kids on Broadway and first performed at Castlewood Country Club. The name change occurred in 2000. A future offering at Ohlone College will be "Once on This Island" directed by Kristin Stokes, date to be decided.

Broadway West burst on stage in their red brick building on January 10, 1997 with "A Few Good Men." According to a news clipping in June Griffin's albums, Paula Chenowith and Rick Shapiro were co-owners. Current owners are Paula Chenowith and Mary Golde, and their next production will be "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in March.

If the entire world is a stage, Fremont and the surrounding cities are well represented with theatrical groups and many people who enjoy acting and performing their roles on stage.

Pictures, posters, and history are on display at:
Fremont Cultural Activities office
3355 Country Drive, Fremont
Monday through Friday
11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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