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TBA Online: News & Features: December 2017

Theatre Companies Step Up in the Fire’s Wake

Wednesday, December 20, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Emily Wilson

On Sunday, October 8, Craig Miller, artistic director of 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, had walked in the door, returning from rehearsals for the upcoming production of Steel Magnolias. He had just put his satchel down when his phone rang, and the show’s lighting designer told him he needed to come back to the theatre—the empty lot next door was on fire.

Miller raced over, and his wife, lighting designer, costume shop manager, and technical director formed a line passing fire extinguishers to him.

“It was about 10 feet from our parking lot and the garage of the house on the other side of the field had caught fire,” Miller said. “We probably killed eight or nine fire extinguishers.”

Craig Miller. Photo courtesy of 6th Street Playhouse.

Fortunately, the building wasn’t damaged, but members of the cast and theatre staff members lost their homes and were evacuated. Steel Magnolias was scheduled to open that next Friday, but Miller shrank the four-week run of the show to three weeks.

“It was more than just for safety reasons—when something like this happens, people just can’t wrap their head around it,” he said. “No one was interested in a ticket to the theatre—they had so many bigger fish to fry.”

The North Bay fires destroyed over 5,000 homes and killed dozens of people. Lesley Currier, general manager of the Marin Shakespeare Company in San Rafael, knows many theatre employees, families, and donors who were affected. “One of our donors lost a house he built with his hands 35 years ago,” she said “He was just talking to me about how sad he is and how uncertain the future feels with an event like this.”

Currier thinks people in the North Bay will experience more events like these in , and it makes everyone unsettled.

“It’s hard to know what the long term impact will be on our community,” she said. “I don’t know if you can ever actually prepare for that kind of event, but it makes us want to make sure our insurance policy is up to date.”

Lots of organizations, including theaters, looked for ways to help those who suffered huge losses in the fires. Matthew Gregg, with Roshi Entertainment, a theatre production company, held a benefit performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the San Jose Stage Company. They had been planning to perform it with Famous Monsters of Filmland, a media company based out of Petaluma, which had to cancel due to the fires. So Roshi added a free show in San Jose, and asked people to donate as they could, raising $1,500 for fire relief.

“Our philosophy is not to eke out every dollar we possibly can,” Gregg said. “The Roshi slogan is ‘Teach, entertain and be good.’”

Berkeley’s Shotgun Players managed to insert a last-minute benefit concert into its busy production schedule.

“Everybody was feeling so incredibly sad about the fires,” said Shotgun managing director Liz Lisle. “We were talking around the office, and we decided we could leverage this venue as a way for people to have a nice night and get help for those who were devastated by these fires.”

Misner and Smith. Photo courtesy of

What they came up with was a concert on October 27 with Bay Area actors and musicians Misner & Smith—whose gig in Napa that night had been cancelled due to the fires. The wine distributor for Shotgun is based up north and they donated a bunch of cases of wine, Lisle said. The concert raised $3,600 benefiting North Bay Fire Relief Fund and Redwood Empire Food Bank.

The 6th Street Playhouse held a benefit as well. Miller decided not to go ahead with the previously scheduled psychological and political thriller, Two Rooms by Lee Blessing (“It wasn’t what our audience needed,” Miller said), and instead put on a three nights of cabaret shows. The shows raised just under $5,000 for fire relief, and the theater is also offering free tickets to their production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas to anyone who lost their home.

“I am extremely impressed with the entire community, specifically the artistic community,” Miller said. “We’re doing what we love to do and we’re passionate about. At first we were kind of shaken, but we don’t know how to do anything else but this.”

Here are some ways you can help with recovery efforts in the North Bay:

Emily Wilson writes for print, the web and radio. She also teaches at City College of San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @ehw415