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by Joan Ray
The San Clemente Community Theater was officially chartered on March 6, 1953. Evangeline Nelson was the non-profit corporation’s first president and its first play Two Blind Mice, directed by Tom Gilmore, opened at the Casino San Clemente on September 14.
The theater’s fledging acting company, the San Clement Players, became a traveling troop, performing wherever it found a venue, including various school auditoriums, the Elk’s Lodge and the City Hall Council Chamber.
By the mid-‘60s the theater had sufficient funds to purchase a property of its own, and after a lengthy search for the perfect site the building committee found the Adair House which was available with an adjacent lot. A group of the theater’s supporters gathered at the home for a preview of the building, and President Omah Parker asked for suggestions for naming the new facility. Out of the 24 names suggested, six were Cabrillo and the Cabrillo Playhouse was born.
The playhouse’s debut production, Bell, Book and Candle, by John Van Druten, was directed by Thelma Rickman and featured Joanne Black, Ray Bisco, Alice Lamas and Ray McCann. It opened on June 11, 1966, and Ray Duncan, with a crew from NBC televised the opening.
In September of 1978 the community theater celebrated its Silver Jubilee when newly elected president Bill Ray and seasoned treasurer Dick Pick burned the mortgage. The charming little theater was now owned free and clear, and extra funds were made available to improve the building and its grounds. Deferred maintenance had left some of the theater’s structure in fragile condition, which became apparent when a very talented and fairly large comedic actor, waiting in the wings, fell through the wooden floor.
During Ray’s presidency the entire backstage was renovated, including two dressing rooms, a lounge area, lavatory and storage area, creating a lighter, brighter ambiance. And at the suggestion of succeeding president, Stan Manning, the back stage wall was opened up, creating two more stage entries. This one change created many additional and needed staging options.
To accommodate an increasing attendance, President Bill Ray and his committee repositioned the auditorium’s seating, enlarging the audience capacity from 59 to 66. But perhaps this period’s most important change was the conversion of the vacant lot adjacent to the building.
With the help of Jack Stubbs, who aided in designing numerous award winning Rose Parade floats, the weed-filled lot was transformed into an inviting garden patio that became an attractive spot for special events as well as before-theater and intermission conviviality.
During B.J. Scott’s time in office, with the help of vice-president and dynamic fundraiser, Ray Benedictus, and a hard-working board of directors, $65,000 was raised for a 1,400 sq. ft. addition to the rear portion of the theater. It now provides space to build sets and store tools, equipment, props and costumes as well as offices for the playhouse staff.
Ticket prices have remained reasonable throughout the years, allowing entire families and those of lesser means to enjoy quality, live theater without breaking the bank. In 1985 the Season Ticket Series (six plays for $100) was launched, providing patrons with an even greater value.
Sally Jeisy and her 2008/9 board took the theater into the future by creating an interactive website providing information regarding upcoming productions, special events and online ticket sales.
The Cabrillo Playhouse celebrated its 50th birthday on May 14, 2016 with festivities that included food, beverage, entertainment and opportunity drawings on the deck. A musical presentation of songs from Man of La Mancha, Les Miserables, Singing in the Rain, Sussical, Oklahoma and other favorites was provided by the Cabrillo Cabaret Singers - Jonathan Haidl, Angela Lathrope, Taylor Magee, Caroline Mulvihill, Dirk Rogers and Duane Tomas. Michael Lopez directed.
Dedicated volunteers have made the Cabrillo Playhouse a place to meet and greet others, enjoy music, laughter, occasional tears and good theater. It is people like immediate past-president Diana Kelly, president Ron Runolfson and his board, secretary Linda Copper, treasurer Linda Aiorio, Dolly Latteier, Lee Tiller, Lory Sheldon, Tanya Johnson, Nancy Hyde, Jan Henricks, Susan Weaver and other supporters who use their time and talents to make evenings at the theater entertaining and even memorable.
Three plays remain in this season’s productions: March’s Angel Street, a Sherlock Holmes type mystery; April/May’s Almost Maine: It’s Love but not Quite; and June’s Stepping Out, a rollicking comedy about a beginning dance class.