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Raise The Curtain - Theatre Review Brings Local Arts Into Focus
november 2
The cast of the new political comedy, November at Stage 3 Theatre in Sonora. From left: Stephen Daly, Shelley Hodes, Michael Crich, Denny Bowen, Mike Moon. - photo by COURTESY OF DON BILOTTI

The arts are alive and well in the region, as evidenced by the successful theatrical troupes staging comedies, dramas and musicals for the enjoyment of those who like their entertainment up close and personal. This week we look at four more area companies putting arts on stage.

Stage 3 Theatre Company was founded by Barbara Segal and Neil Mill in 1993 and spent its very early years as an itinerant theatre troupe which performed where space was available. In 1996 it took up residence at its permanent home on Green Street in Sonora and has become a regional success story. Don Bilotti, who has spent most of his adult life in professional theatre, became the Artistic Director in 2001 and has enjoyed watching the intimate theatre grow in fame and stature over the years.

“We believe in a theatre which adds meaning to our lives,” Bilotti said. “A theatre must entertain, but we have higher goals. Our work should also add meaning, hope, compassion and depth to our lives.”

So far, that philosophy has paid off. Stage 3 has become a regional powerhouse, producing acclaimed work that runs the gamut from Shakespeare to the latest Tony Award and Pulitzer Award winners.

Stage 3 casts regionally as well.

“There is great talent here and we are honored that actors will travel many miles to work at our theatre,” Bilotti continued.

Stage 3 holds general auditions in November and also stages private auditions throughout the year.

“We are a very actor friendly theatre and it is easy to get straight through to me. I love hearing from not only actors and directors but also people who are interested in the technical aspects.”

The company, in fact, is right now looking for a lighting designer. Stage 3 offers its performers a small stipend.

The current season continues with their next presentation, David Mamet’s, “November,” which opens Friday, Aug. 31.

It will be followed by the familiar to audiences “Brighton Beach Memoirs” by Neil Simon, which opens on Nov. 16.

Stage 3 Theatre Company can be reached at 209-536-1778 or online at

A spotlight, a ladder and the words, “Welcome to Grover’s Corners” introduced eager theatre goers to Stockton Civic Theatre for its very first production, “Our Town” in 1951. And now, thanks to founders Frank Jones and Clyde Nielsen, countless volunteers, actors, supporters and patrons, SCT is about to embark on its 62nd season. Boasts Artistic Director, Jim Coleman, “We are the third longest-continuously producing community theatre in the United States with more than 370 productions.”

SCT has called a number of venues home since 1951 when they opened that first season in the auditorium of the Madison School. In 1962, they moved to the old Zion Lutheran Church at Willow and Monroe streets and then settled into a brand new, 300 seat facility on Rosemarie Avenue in North Stockton in 1981. SCT produces six shows per season and sponsors the Summer Youth Program, which culminates in a full-scale musical production. The annual six week educational program provides instruction for youth entering third through 12th grades.

Struggling to survive in the current economy, SCT manages an aggressive marketing campaign including an extensive mailing before each show, posters, print ads and releases to the media. Additionally, the theatre has partnered with several local hotels and provides brochures displayed at the check-in desk and places a copy of SCT’s 60th Anniversary book in each guest room.

SCT has just closed out its 61st season with the wildly successful “Sweeney Todd” which garnered an attendance tally of 91.4 percent. (“Todd” was bested only by “42nd Street” from the previous season with 91.6 percent.) The new season will kick off on Sept. 5 with that audience favorite, “Grease,” which will be followed by “White Christmas,” “Lend Me A Tenor,” “The Little Shop of Horrors,” The Ritz” and “Anything Goes.”

SCT can be contacted online,, on Facebook or by calling 209-473-2400.

Founded in 2010, the Community Theatre of Linden was established by a dedicated and hard working group of people whose stated mission is to “provide an outlet for creative community involvement, while seeking to produce quality entertainment whose purpose is to enrich, educate and entertain the community,” according to CTL Board President John Fry. He added that the success of this organization would not be possible had it not been for the support of the local community and the dedication of the volunteers who labor backstage and in the front of the house. CTL is always quick to point out that many folks have stepped up to lend their expertise in directing, acting, set building, fund raising and other vital fields.

Their inaugural offering was the ever popular “Cheaper By The Dozen,” which played to enthusiastic audiences in 2010. Since that time, they have presented such shows as “Love Letters,” “Steel Magnolias,” “The Fantasticks,” “Social Security” and the recently closed musical “Honk.” Next up is the comedy/drama play by A.R. Gurney, “The Dining Room,” directed by well-known local director, Judy Caruso Williamson.

Fry takes pride in announcing their new outreach program called “Stage Right,” which was rolled out this past June. He described it as a youth-oriented program that will engage the younger set in the hope that it will cultivate an interest in theatrical participation.

The Community Theatre of Linden can be reached at 209-401-8549 or online at

While Merced has always had some sort of community-based theatre over the years, in 1994 the Merced Center for the Performing Arts was founded with the expressed purpose “to create a more permanent community based theatre for the city of Merced and the Central Valley” according to Jim Kocher, Communications Director for the theatre. Established nearly 20 years ago by Noble and Sandra Dinse, Playhouse Merced presented just four show that year, “Mousetrap,” “The King and I,” “The Sound of Music” and “Big River.” The current 2012-2013 season has 10 shows slated and they run the gamut from family friendly musicals, side-splitting comedies to compelling dramas.

Robert Hypes, who has been with the organization since 2005 and is currently the Artistic Director, said that “a community theatre is only as good as its volunteers, and we have in Merced, some of the best.”

Kocher explained that “the quality of the talent here is actually quite good. From the sets to costumes to the people performing on the stage, I am very impressed with our productions at Playhouse Merced.” And he should know, as he and his wife, Dianne, are recent transplants from that entertainment mecca, Los Angeles.

Playhouse Merced opens up auditions to all members of the community and beyond. The acting assignments are non-paying but all participants are guaranteed a good time. After the initial auditions, “callbacks” are held to further winnow down the talent pool and then the hard casting choices are made. Rehearsals begin four to five weeks before opening night and take place in the evening. At Playhouse Merced most shows run three weekends.

Playhouse Merced’s 19th season begins Aug. 31 with “9-5: The Musical” which features music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and is based on the popular 1980 movie of the same name. The balance of the season includes: “A Few Good Men,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Annie,” “Dearly Departed,” “The Hobbit,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Urinetown,” “Merced Born & Raised: One Act Plays by Local Writers” and “West Side Story.”

The theatre can be reached by calling 209-725-8587 or online at