LEISURE

40 YEARS OF LIVE THEATRE

Samuel Young plays Henry Metcalf and Natalia Maggio portrays Dawn Hammond in the recent production of “Return Engagements,” part of Scripps Ranch Theatre’s 40th anniversary season. (photo by Ken Jacques)

40 YEARS OF LIVE THEATRE

This season marks the 40th anniversary of Scripps Ranch Theatre, the local playhouse that survived early years of uncertainty on its way to becoming an award-winning arts organization and a vital part of the Scripps Ranch community.

Scripps Ranch Theatre (SRT) is a volunteer-run nonprofit organization with a stated mission of “producing quality and entertaining theater, consistently.” An executive board handles fundraising and finances, while an operational board oversees things like producing; creative direction; and box office, season ticket and database management.

Funding for the theater comes from a combination of ticket sales and fundraising, and the playhouse has about 900 season ticket holders, according to current SRT Executive Director Dave McClure.

Over the years, SRT productions have garnered a number of Aubrey Awards from the San Diego Association of Community Theaters as well as other accolades. Most recently, the theater won two Critics Choice Awards from the San Diego Union-Tribune for “She Loves Me” and “Dancing Lessons.”

Selected by a play-reading committee, the annual list of SRT productions focuses on offering seasons mixed with comedies, dramas and musicals.

“Our audience likes comedies, so we do a lot of those,” McClure noted. “Musicals are more expensive to produce, so we only do one of those every one or two years.”

In addition to its regular schedule of plays, the theater hosts the annual “Out on a Limb: New Plays from America’s Finest City” festival, spotlighting plays by San Diego writers. Additionally, the theater’s Education and Outreach Program works to preserve San Diego’s arts and culture community by bringing live theater to children throughout the San Diego area. The program includes performances for students at local middle and high schools as well as a summer camp and a six-week children’s program held in partnership with the Rancho Family YMCA.

Much of what is known about the theater’s history is recorded on the SRT website in a three-part series of articles by Sharon Hays.

According to that information, SRT’s origins go back to 1978, when Scripps Ranch resident and local stage actor B.J. Scott got tired of having to drive long distances to plays she was in. She advertised in area newspapers for people interested in meeting to discuss and organize a community theater in Scripps Ranch. Soon, bylaws were in place and the charter officers of the new Scripps Ranch Community Theatre (SCRT) were B. J. Scott, president; Gretchen Timmermans, vice president; Luraine MacLeod, secretary; and Jerry Oen, treasurer. SCRT’s first production, in June of 1978, was the classic play “Our Town,” directed by Teri Eriksen and starring Scripps ranch residents.

The early years saw the fledgling SCRT struggle to find a home, staging productions at a changing list of venues. Performances were held on the campus of United States International University (USIU, now Alliant International University), Wangenheim Middle School in Mira Mesa, the Scripps Ranch Swim and Racquet Club and even the parking lot of the Vons shopping center.

SRT found its current home, the Legler Benbough Theatre, in1992, after USIU ended its theater program. The university’s then-president, a Scripps Ranch resident, knew about the playhouse’s search for a permanent home and offered the organization a lease.

The theater was renovated between the 1999 and 2000 seasons with money from a grant from the Legler Benbough Foundation. The renovation brought a new stage, sound booth, lighting, seats and carpeting, resulting in the intimate 118-seat venue it is today.

Scripps Ranch Theatre Executive Director David McClure in the theater’s current home on the campus of Alliant University. (photo by Ken David)

“It’s a good space, but we’ve outgrown it,” McClure said.

The local theater’s growth and success amidst challenges reached a new level around 2003, when the theater transitioned from being, technically, a community theater (of all unpaid staff) to a professional one after the still-unpaid board made a decision and commitment to pay actors, set designers and crew among others involved with the productions.

A scene from the 2008 Scripps Ranch Theatre production of “The Dining Room.” (courtesy Scripps Ranch Theatre)

Opportunity for a new SRT home has arisen with the possible sale of the property where Alliant International University now sits. That’s also the current top challenge for the theater’s volunteer stewards. According to the foundation that owns the parcel, the land is still for sale with no report of a buyer. McClure says that discussions with his contacts at the university indicate Alliant would like to continue to host SRT at its next location, whenever that time comes. That theater would be a bigger, updated space that the local theater would share with the university.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary and help generate funds for play production and the theater’s Outreach and Education Program, SRT is holding a “Lights on Broadway” opportunity drawing for a three-night trip to New York City, including round-trip airfare, a three-night hotel stay and a $300 voucher to use toward two tickets to the Broadway show of the winner’s choice. Tickets for the drawing are available at scrippsranchtheatre.org or by contacting Caitlyn McTaggart at development@scrippsranchtheatre.org. The winner will be announced at SRT’s 40th Anniversary Celebration on May 11. The celebration will include a reading of SRT’s first produced play, “Old Town.”

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