By Jimmy Boegle
Most of the Coachella Valley’s theater companies have gone dark during these dog days of summer—and those that are still going have left things up to the kids.
Desert Theatreworks is currently in the midst of showing off the results of its KidsWorks Summer Camp—and the Green Room Theatre Company this week will mount four performances of a massive production of Sister Act.
David Catanzarite, Green Room Theatre Company’s founding artistic director, recently spoke to the Independent about Sister Act and Green Room’s plans for the upcoming season.
Tell me about the Green Room Theatre Company and where it fits into the Coachella Valley theater ecosystem, for lack of a better word.
During the regular season, from September to May, we have a lot of professional actors, and we do mainly adult plays for adult audiences. This year, we are doing three Pulitzer Prize-winning plays for our regular season (Sweat, by Lynn Nottage; Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive; and August Wilson’s Fences), and we launched a Shakespeare festival as of three years ago.
We founded the (Summer Theatre) Conservatory 10 years ago. We started off … just trying to put together a really good training program for middle-schoolers, because the middle schools were all closing down their theater programs. … Once we announced it, we had people coming through and saying, “Well, my daughter is just a year away from middle school, and she really wants to be in the conservatory,” and, “Well, I’m in high school, but I really, really want to do this,” so we extended it even in the first year to a bigger age spread. We went 8 to 18. … Our goal all along has been nobody will get turned away for inability to pay.
We are the most rigorous and comprehensive summer theater training program in the Coachella Valley. We are professionally oriented; we teach the kids professional work habits … and we work fast. We will have had 23 days of rehearsal before we open on Wednesday, and it’s really exciting for (the kids), because they love it.
Are all of the kids from the Summer Theatre Conservatory going to be in Sister Act?
Yes, every kid who’s in the conservatory will be performing in the show—except for we have a tech track now, too. Those kids won’t be performing, because they’re doing tech. We’re going to have about 60 performers on stage, including our musicians.
You must have a big stage at Indio High School.
We do. This is a fantastic theater, and I’m pretty sure we are the first non-school production that’s been allowed to use this amazing space. I’ve worked in all the theaters in the Coachella Valley … and this is the best middle-size house in the Coachella Valley. I mean, it’s got 49 pipes overhead for lighting and scenery. The Desert Sands Unified School District put a lot of money into this beautiful space.
Why did you choose Sister Act for the summer show?
We’re really making a push to start finding and creating roles for more African-American and Latino actors in general. So it was a bit of a leap of faith with Sister Act to do a play that has an African-American leading lady, but we’ve got a great actor in that role.
This play really appeals to me, because it has two things that I think our company, in its 10th season, is all about. One is (people) finding themselves through finding a community. That’s one of the big scenes in Sister Act. When the kids come to us, they have a chance to really grow into themselves. … So that’s one thing—the strong sense of community that is embodied in Sister Act. The other piece of it is self-realization. That’s what this play is all about.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
We’re looking to grow another step, and we’re always looking for people to join the company, whether it’s as board members, or more adult actors to join and work with us during the regular year.
How do you intend on getting those adults to join? Are you doing auditions?
We already had one round of auditions back in June. We’re going to do another round a little later, like around September. We’ll announce the auditions on the website.
Where are your shows this season going to take place?
We put shows in places that people don’t necessarily think of in terms of theater. We’re going to do something at one of the libraries, maybe more than one. We’re also probably going to partner with the CREATE Center for the Arts. … Part of what we do is try to take theater to people where they are instead of people always having to come to a theater. That’s part of our mission in the company—to take theater to under-served parts of the Coachella Valley.
The classes that I teach (on theater at the Cal State University, San Bernardino’s Palm Desert Campus) … I always do a survey at the beginning of the year with my students. These are college students; they’re 18 through 28. About a third of them have never seen live theater at all. I say, “Did you do anything in kindergarten? Did you ever go to a church play?” No, they have never seen any live theater. That pumps up my mission even more, because obviously I love theater. I want everybody to have that—the joy, the experience of live theater.
Sister Act, a performance by the Green Room Theatre Company’s Summer Conservatory, will be performed at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, July 24-26, with a two-for-one-ticket matinee at 1 p.m., Thursday, July 25, at Indio High School, 81750 Avenue 46, in Indio. Tickets are $20; or $13 for students or seniors. For tickets or more information, call 760-696-2564, or visit www.greenroomtheatrecompany.org.