What does it take to stake new ground and thrive as a community theater in a small California city?
Clayton is about to find out.
The Clayton Theatre Co. comes to the city's Endeavor Hall with "The Robber Bridegroom," a two-act musical adaptation of a 1942 novella by Eudora Welty, premiering Friday. The show runs through Oct. 26.
Managing director Roxanne Pardi said the dream she and artistic director La Tonya Watts cooked up nine years ago was held in limbo when "life got in the way." After the bumps smoothed out, she and Watts decided to dive in.
"Every town deserves a theater company," Pardi said, explaining why five years of dire economic forecasts, the Willows Theatre Co.'s demise in 2012, and the honest-to-goodness hurdle required to start a nonprofit did not deter them.
Dreams borne of a fantasy often die, but Pardi's long ago "epiphany moment" did not. She still remembers watching Mary Martin as Peter Pan on a San Francisco theater stage.
"Live people singing and acting ... wow," she said, in the hushed, awed tones of a 5-year-old.
After majoring in vocal music at San Francisco State, Pardi went on to work at Pittsburg High School. Theater director Orrin Cross was a mentor. From Cross, Pardi learned stage craft and shared his belief that an actor should know not just his or her lines, but every aspect of theatrical production.
She carried the philosophies to shows she directed or assisted with at the African American Shakespeare Co, Pittsburg Community Theatre, and into the private music lessons she teaches.
Watts became part of the legacy at Pittsburg High, where she was Pardi's student. A mutual mindset about the importance of community theater forms the foundation of their partnership.
"I believe in small theater because that's where it starts. (It's) intimate, supportive -- and it's where you build your craft," Watts said.
Pardi said the city has "bent over backward" to support CTC. A $3,000 matching grant from the Clayton Business & Community Association gave them seed money.
"It has been daunting," she confessed. "But I'm also surrounded by incredible people. Every time I call for help, no one says, 'No,' " including music director Santiago Martinez, a "since forever" friend of Pardi's who agreed to participate more than a year ago -- despite not knowing the show she would select.
Martinez attends rehearsals for "Robber," toting a keyboard, but soon, accompanied by the complete band, with bass, guitar, violin, banjo and percussion. Live music, a most welcome component even in Endeavor Hall's tiny space, will boost the all-important human factor and explains half the reason Pardi selected the musical.
"I searched for a parody of a melodrama," she said. "I was looking for a show with a Southern or country flare, to match the civic pride of Clayton. It had to fit our venue, which meant a small set, small cast, limited costumes."
Set in 18th century Mississippi, "The Robber Bridegroom's" nine principal actors tell the story of Rosamund, the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, Clement Muscrove.
The robber, Jamie Lockhart, woos Rosamund, inadvertently inflaming the lustful passions of her wicked stepmother, Salome. An attempt to swipe the girl leads to comic kidnapping, and boisterous bluegrass-accompanied bumbling.
Watts said making the show feel big in the small space is the greatest challenge.
Actor Sam Young, who plays the robber, described his character as "cocky, selfish, conniving." The robber's love relationships are "twisted," he added, creating complex, vulnerable possibilities. "The most exciting part of this show is creating a character that has a potential for so many levels."
CTC rehearsals have been held three times a week since mid-September, but increase as the cast pushes into the home stretch to prepare for the opening.
"We want theater to survive," Pardi said. "Come work on a show, help build a set. We so appreciate the support from the community, patrons, the CBCA and the city of Clayton."
WHAT: Clayton Theatre Co.'s
"The Robber Bridegroom"
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18-19, 24-26; and 2 p.m., Oct. 19-20, 26; previews 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16-17
WHERE: Endeavor Hall, 6008 Center St., Clayton
COST: $18 general admission;
$16 seniors; $12 students
TICKETS/INFO: Visit www.