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Bitten By The Bug - Valley Thespians Love Taking To The Stage
theater 2
Chelsea Nennie, Jaxon Gwillim and Katie Rose Krueger form the love triangle at the center of the current Sierra Repertory Theatre production. - photo by COURTESY OF RICH MILLER PHOTOGRAPHY

For many Central Valley and foothills residents, there is “No Business Like Show Business.” And whether you love the ‘smell of the greasepaint’ or hearing the ‘roar of the crowd’ as a performer or as an audience member, there is an exciting multitude of choices within a short driving distance from your home. This week, we look at several of those venues, with another handful due for review in next week’s issue. Here is a rundown of four of those venues. Each offers quality entertainment at affordable prices.

Oakdale Community Theatre was founded in 2000 and was the brainchild of former Oakdale resident Stephanie Cooper.

Cooper and her husband Troy, supported by a groundswell of local talent and volunteers, launched the inaugural presentation, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” in November of that year. Staged in the auditorium at Magnolia Elementary School, it was a tremendous success and it launched an additional opportunity for participation by those local Valley residents who were thespian-minded. That show was followed up with “Aaron Slick of Punkin Crick,” also presented at Magnolia. Other shows since then have been “Coming Apart,” “Little Women,” “Annie” and “Oliver.”
Jenni Abbott, a member of the OCT Steering Committee, boasts that this group “is, of and for the people of Oakdale.”

Additionally, Abbott who was the musical director for “Annie” and directed last summer’s production of “Oliver” stated she is very proud of the success of the organization and is quick to point out that OCT is providing a fun and healthy outlet for performers of all skill levels. And auditions are open not only to those who live in Oakdale but also to theatre folk from the surrounding communities as well.

Although OCT did not produce a summer musical this year, interest in the group remains strong with many chomping at the bit to get back on stage. Anastasia Sepulveda, president of the OCT Steering Committee, noted that rather than resting on its laurels, the group will be presenting a two-show season in 2013. Next spring, Oakdale High School drama instructor, Bryan Mills, will be directing the comedy, “Rumors” by popular playwright Neil Simon and the summer musical will be that family favorite, “Cinderella.” Both will be presented in the Little Theatre on the OHS campus.

Currently, the organization is looking into securing a non-profit 501c status and plan several fundraising events over the coming months ahead of the new season.

Founded by Producing Director, Dennis Jones, Managing Director, Sara Jones and Resident Stage Manager, Doug Brennan in 1979, SRT is the only fully professional theatre company in the foothills of the Sierras. SRT consistently earns ovations from audiences and top ratings for artistic excellence from the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition to its original East Sonora location, Sierra Rep is also the resident theatre company at the Fallon House theatre in Columbia State Park. Between the two venues, SRT produces nine shows each season.

SRT employs a full time staff of 15 and hires an additional 100 actors and artisans each season. The group boasts that it is the only theatre in the area with a year-round Actor’s Equity Contract, the union of professional stage managers and actors in the United States. Typically, SRT receives hundreds of submissions from actors from all over the country and holds auditions in Sonora, Los Angeles and New York. They are proud to cast shows with local talent and Broadway performers as well.

With their mission to present “Something For Everyone,” Artistic Director Scott Viets is quick to toast the group’s diverse programming, which offers everything from large scale musicals, to Shakespeare, to wonderful comedies and dramas and musical revues.

The balance of their season includes, “There Goes The Bride,” “I Love A Piano,” “Every Christmas Story Ever Told…And Then Some” and closes out with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” The 2013 nine show season will be announced on Sept. 1, 2012.

Sierra Repertory Theatre can be reached at 209-532-0502 or online at

Murphys Creek Theatre offers one of the most charming venues in the Gold Country theatre world. Set in a wooded and tiered amphitheatre on the grounds of a rustic and picturesque winery, this group produces four shows a season. The summer show is staged in this idyllic setting while the other three shows are presented at the Black Bart Playhouse in Murphys. Graham Scott Glenn, the current Artistic Director and occasional production director, says that the “local community has been very supportive of MCT and that the audiences, spilt between 60 percent local and 40 percent out of towners, are great!”

He also said they have tried to work cooperatively to promote the area.

“We have been partnering with the local restaurants, wineries and hotels in an effort to provide an entertainment/getaway package,” he explained.

The group, which was founded in 1994, took over the Black Bart Playhouse after the former tenants, the Black Bart Players, ceased producing shows.

“They staged about two shows a season and the theatre was dark most of the time,” Graham reported.

At this time, MCT offers four shows a season. When asked how the current economic downturn has affected the theatre, he said that they have been forced to cut back on the number of shows they produce annually and that they choose shows with smaller casts. He added that most of their funding comes from ticket sales but that they also have received a few grants as well. MCT offers its performers a small stipend to help offset the cost of gasoline and other travel expenses.

Unique to this organization is the very popular “Mirror Project” which is a youth oriented educational and outreach program. Geared to theatre-minded individuals, the Mirror Project offers a concentrated learning environment with classes five days a week for four hours a day. The students are instructed in dance, voice, improvisation and then spend the last hour rehearsing for their own performances of the summer show. This year they “mirrored” the adult production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

Murphys will offer two more presentations this season. Currently playing is “The Imaginary Invalid” (which opened Aug. 17) and they will close out the year with “Almost Maine,” which opens its run on Nov.16. According to Graham, the new season is still in the planning stages and will be announced when finalized. Murphys Creek Theatre can be reached at 209-728-8422 or online at

The idea of the Prospect Theatre Project began brewing in 1999. Weary of doing theatre on an “if and when funding can be found” basis and yearning for a dedicated theatre space, a group of committed actors, directors, educators, designers and technicians sought a venue through which they could practice their craft on a regular basis and share their passion for theatre with the Modesto community.

In October 2000, PTP was born and their premier production was presented in April, 2001.

PTP was greeted enthusiastically by a community embracing the idea of innovative theatre in an intimate setting. Workshops began being offered in May, 2001.

According to the PTP Board of Directors, the mission of the theatre is to “develop and present new and unconventional as well as traditional works in the theatre arts.” Founding Artistic Director, Jack Souza, has been a tremendous force in bringing PTP to the forefront of the Valley’s entertainment scene and has been instrumental in expanding recognition of a group that describes itself as “The little theatre with the edge.” He points to the highly successful presentations of “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “The Grapes of Wrath” at the Gallo Center of the Performing Arts in Modesto. Other exciting offerings have included “A Delicate Balance,” “Dinner,” “Three Tall Women” and “Lee Marvin Be Thy Name.”

Prospect Theatre Project is located near downtown Modesto and can be contacted online at or by calling 209-549-9341.

Next week, a look at: Stage 3 Theatre Company, Stockton Civic Theatre, Community Theatre of Linden and Playhouse Merced.