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Playhouse grant aims for diversity

September 11, 2012

Playhouse 395 will create a need-and-interest committee and a theatrical programming committee, both open to the general public, so that the theater company’s productions, Children’s Theater Workshops and high school drama program represent all segments of the local community. Photo by Robb Hardin


Playhouse 395 will be seeking community input in order to diversify its repertoire, casts and crews with recently-acquired grant funding.

The theater company was awarded an $8,000 Creating Public Value Grant from California Arts Council to increase “participation in Playhouse 395 productions by low-income individuals of all ages (and by focusing) on Native American and Hispanic/Latino children and youth,” said Playhouse 395’s part-time general manager Rosanne Higley.

“Having diversity in the involvement of the full community has been a board goal since the inception of (Playhouse) 395,” said Higley. The theater company was reestablished in 2006 by founding board members who wanted to give their own children an opportunity to share their passion for musical theater, she added. Although it’s been some 25 or 30 years since Playhouse 395 was first established, this new funding now enables them to share the passion with a previously untapped segment of the community.

Having received three-quarters of the grant upfront, Playhouse 395 must now embark on the journey to  fulfill its proposed goals, Higley explained.


Playhouse 395’s primary goal is “supporting safe and creative opportunities for youth,” said Higley, through theater participation, especially after school and during summer break when kids are off and unsupervised. And “theater is an amenity that enhances our community (anyway). That’s a given.”

The proposal’s second goal  is “to increase participation for minority and low-income children in our Children’s Theatre Workshop summer series,” said Higley, which always starts the week after school gets out in June. Children’s Theatre Workshop  encourages parental participation, too. During Children’s Theatre Workshop, participants learn “everything they need to know about musical theater  stagecraft – auditioning, backstage, lighting, sound, singing, dancing and acting.”

The theater company will also strive for more cultural diversity in Bishop Union High School’s drama program which was reestablished by Playhouse 395 during the 2011-12 school year, explained Higley. It’s a win-win situation for the kids because they can earn additional “fine arts credits by participating in 395 productions.”


The first step toward achieving these goals is to create and administer a needs and interest survey, said Higley, to find out two things. 

First, “we want to identify the barriers to participation (by minority communities) … What is it that we do – and musicals are our bread and butter” – that precludes more inclusive participation? Playhouse 395 wants to get  the local minority communities interested in what “we offer,” she said.

Second, the survey must establish what the target community will “need in order to participate … How to offer people what they are interested in,” said the general manager. Is it, for example, funding  for transportation, costumes and  librettos (the text for long vocal works), said Higley.

To assess needs and interests, “people from the minority community (will) need to step up to the plate” and give their input.“ The survey will be administered via conventional media, such as radio, television and newsprint, and through social media, which can include Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and so on.

Fulfilling the diverse needs and interests of the community as a whole could be tricky however because, bottom-line, “in order to be financially successful, we need to put on (shows) that are popular and well-known enough to draw a crowd … We try to be affordable while trying to keep our heads above water,” said Higley.

Playhouse 395 will form committees, open to the public to join, to create and administer the surveys, said Higley. The committees “will make recommendations to the Playhouse 395 board who will  decide” how to proceed.


Using the results of the  needs and interests assessment, “we will develop a long-term theatrical program,” said Higley. “And we are interested in knowing what types of programming would be of most interest to the community in general; we don’t want to be exclusive in either direction,” said Higley. While there are many rich, culturally-diverse theater traditions from which to draw material, there has to be an audience and funding to put on a show – grant money cannot be used for productions. 

Putting on a production takes a “wonderful cadre of about 200 volunteer cast and crew members – without whom we would not put on the incredible performances we do” – six to eight long-term directors, lighting and other professionals; one part-time general manager; and five board members.

Anyone interested in being involved in the assessment survey or programming committees, on a short- or long-term basis, should contact Higley at (760) 920-9100 or


Meeting its goals of increasing the cultural/socioeconomic diversity and youth population of their cast, crew and audiences, would bring a whole new dimension to Playhouse 395’s repertoire, to date. Higley admitted that diversity has been scarce. “It’s a stretch but ‘Mulan’ brought in some of the Asian community … but it always comes back to doing shows people have heard of.”

These include:

• Children’s Theatre Workshop productions: “Honk!,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “Mulan,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Willy Wonka,” “The Aristocats,” “Jungle Book,” “Guys and Dolls” and “101 Dalmatians.” 

• Musicals: “Hello Dolly,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” “South Pacific,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “The Music Man,” “Bugsy Malone,” “Annie” and “Sound of Music.”

• Drama: “I’m getting Murdered in the Morning” and “The Trip to Bountiful” (its first non-musical).

However, returning again to the refrain of its new goals,  said Higley, a song “in ‘South Pacific’ says you have to be taught to love and hate … the message comes through so strong, to value other people, everybody. … We want to express that through theater.”

Upcoming Playhouse 395 productions include “Seussical the Musical” – 7 p.m. curtains on Nov. 2, 3, 9 and 10 and additional 2 p.m. matinees on Nov. 3 and 10 – and the “Wizard of Oz” in March 2013.


Playhouse 395 was eligible for CAC’s Creating Public Value Program grant because it  “aims to assist arts organizations located in rural and under-served communities in our state,” said Craig Watson, director of CAC, in a press release. In agreement with Higley, Watson goes on to say that arts programming  improves “the quality of life and economic progress in these neighborhoods by providing arts programming for all ages.”

Creating Public Value Program was set up because CAC saw a need in rural areas which took a harder hit when the 2001-2002 Dotcom bust happened, explained  CAC Information Officer Mary Beth Barber. Rural areas, like those in Owens Valley, rely more heavily on government funding than urban ones, she said, which have access to so much more local and corporate funding opportunities, she said.

By the way, CAC was hit hard, too, plunging from an approximate $30 million annual budget, prior to the bust, to $3 million by 2003. Of $5 million budget, $3 million is derived from the sale of the Arts Plate, said Barber. Each person who buys “the iconic license plate with a sunset and palm tree motif designed by California artist Wayne Thiebaud” contributes $4 to the arts and arts education.

Moreover, California spends $.12 per capita funding the arts as opposed to New York, for example, which spends $2.50 per capita, added Barber.

By the way, Owens Valley communities can benefit from CAC in other ways, too, such as the “Artists in Schools program, which brings professional teaching artists into classroom and after-school settings,” said Barber. “The kids are very involved; they are not just observing.” The program is designed to offer children hands-on arts experience in the “big four” areas: dance, music, theater and visual arts. Barber added multimedia, film and graphic arts are new art forms that fit into the “big four.”

For information, contact Barber at (916) 322-6588 or

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