Theater by the people and for the people was the mission statement of the San Ramon Community Theater when it was founded by Terry Cunningham in 2002. A decade later, that mission remains the foundation for the thriving, albeit small, all-volunteer theater group for residents young and old.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the theater has made many changes as a result of receiving grants from the city and performing in multipurpose rooms in various city buildings to being financially self-sustaining and calling the 90-seat Front Row Theater at the Dougherty Station Community Center its home for the current schedule of three productions a year.
Cunningham, who has starred in just about every play except the ones he directed, says the most successful plays have been family-oriented. While many of the productions require as few as five and up to a maximum of 20 cast members, finding those regular people who want to act and stay for consecutive productions continues to be one of the challenges, he adds.
The Community Theater has been able to thrive and present classic productions such as "Harvey," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "The Odd Couple," "Into the Woods" and holiday staples such as this year's "Bah Humbug! Scrooge's Christmas Carol" despite little or no marketing budget, limited rehearsal time, no prop or set designer and no stage crew beyond the small group of volunteers.
One of the secrets to the Community Theater's longevity has to be Cunningham himself.
"I'm not a quitter who walks away, and I don't mind putting in the work," he says. "I know I've made a difference in kids' lives with this theater group, and that impact is extremely rewarding."
The smallness of the Front Row Theater provides a place for a small theater company, "a place for people to start and come back to," says Cunningham. He adds that it is the intimate size of the theater that "fulfills the need for the actors and audience with ticket prices on par with movie ticket prices."
Finding a way to involve the audience in the show is a signature feature of the Community Theater, says Cunningham. In the recent production of "Cinderella," for example, audience members tried on the glass slipper, and in "Scrooge," the audience becomes part of the street scene interacting with actors.
Staying afloat after 10 years is a triumph, however Cunningham stresses, that "to be a community theater and endure, it needs its community and support." From set designers, builders and costume seamstresses to workshop space to build and store sets, more advertising, actors and singers willing to give of their time to rehearsals and performances, as well as financial support, are needed. Community Theater officials are calling residents to join the San Ramon Arts Foundation, the City of San Ramon and the San Ramon Improv U and support them.
"If you want theater in this community, you have to jump in," Cunningham adds.
Purchase tickets at www.sanramonperformingarts.com or call 925-973-ARTS (2787). For information on upcoming auditions and volunteer opportunities, visit the website or call 925-389-PLAY (7529).
AND SPEAKING OF ART: The city is inviting local artists to apply for the opportunity to show their work at the San Ramon Art Galleries, including the Lindsay Dirkx Brown Gallery inside the community center at Central Park, the Dougherty Station Community Center and the San Ramon Library Gallery.
The deadline is Oct. 19 to submit for review eight to 10 digital images on CD or flash drive that best represents one's artwork and style. A completed gallery application is also required.
Applications will be reviewed by the San Ramon Arts Advisory Committee for showings in 2013. Submit materials to San Ramon Art Galleries, attention Jennifer Gault, 12501 Alcosta Blvd., San Ramon, CA 94582. Call Gault at 925-973-3211 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Contact Monica Lander at email@example.com.