A decade of play at the Arcata Playhouse

Bob Doran
Mad River Union

ARCATA – It was in February, 10 years ago that the Arcata Playhouse opened its doors for a grand cabaret, the first of many such shows mixing theatre, music and comedy. To mark that anniversary this weekend they’ve planned — you guessed it — another star-filled cabaret, plus a roll-back-the-rugs dance with a band of local favorites.

The first of two benefit events is Friday Feb. 3 (doors at 7 p.m., showtime at 8) with Home Cookin’ featuring guitarists Joyce Hough and Fred Neighbor from Freddy and the Starliners (and many other bands), bassist Gary Davidson, who has been playing with them for decades, and drummer Tim Gray, known for his work with Dell’Arte (and too many bands to mention here). They’ll be “serving up savory musical entrees with a saucy back beat,” as David Ferney put it, using culinary imagery. “We love to play at the Playhouse,” says Joyce, suggesting, “Bring your dancing shoes!”

Ferney and Jackie Dandeneau were in that grand show a decade ago. To put it simply, they founded the Playhouse. Last week, with a myriad of details to shore up before the dance and the grand cabaret, Ferney sat down to talk about what’s happened at the Playhouse and what’s yet to come.

In November 2006, Ferney and Dandeneau signed a lease for the space in what’s known as the Old Creamery Building that had housed theatre companies for a while, first the Pacific Art Center, then Vagabond Children’s Theatre, which, said Ferney, came out of the Pacific Arts Center. The initial plan was to join forces with the Vagabond folks, who were struggling. “They had dwindling resources,” he said. “We attempted to partner with them, but they kind of dropped off. We took over after about a year … then they kind of drifted,” as vagabonds are wont to do.

Asked about who was in that first Playhouse cabaret, Ferney wasn’t sure. “I think Fred and Joyce were in that first one, and Gary Davidson. Jackie and I, obviously. Jeff DeMark was supposed to be in this one, but we couldn’t work that out.” He was pretty sure keyboard player Tim Randles was in that first show. Randles will head up the house band in the new show, and has been a stalwart Playhouse player over the years.

The lineup for Saturday lists Randles and his band, the RLA Trio, with Mike LaBolle and Ken Lawrence, plus Chris Parreira, Patrick Cleary, Julie Fulkerson, Siena Nelson, Joanne Rand, Rob Diggins, Jenny Scheinman, Gregg Moore, “and more,” as Ferney noted.

“Jesse Jonathan will have the kids from Blue Lake’s Blue Dragon Steel Band,” to open the show, “and Jackie will do some of her Speakeasy stuff, then we’ll have The Conglomerates, a 12-piece big band we had for New Year's Eve,” with rock, blues, and soul standards. Gregg Moore and his marching band Bandemonium will be out front unleashing pandemonium before the main event along with giant puppets and the infamous Pink Peg-legged Polka Dot Pony (who farts bubbles).

Both evenings will have special cocktails in addition to the usual beer and wine (and non-alcohol drinks) plus light snacks. They’re also rounding up items for a silent auction with art, gift certificates to local businesses and other stuff to tempt you.

Ferney noted, “A big focus of the evening is to honor the people who got us through the first 10 years,” in particular generous businesses, philanthropists, musicians, sound men, etc. SCRAP Humboldt is creating some sort of interactive magnetic donor board, which I’m assured will be really fantastic.

Ferney’s also assembling a collection of hundreds of posters and photographs, a glance through the last 10 years of shows (some of the photos by yours truly). It should give some perspective and remind us about all that’s happened in the space.

"It's amazing to make it to 10 years a milestone for a small community arts center,” he recalled. It’s far more than a space that holds 150 people for shows. The associated Playhouse Arts has the Family Fun Series with programs for kids and their parents. They work with California Arts Council on Artists in the Schools, Youth Workshops during spring school break and in summer, and the Teen Apprentice program where kids learn to run their own shows.

Looking back a decade, was their vision fulfilled? “There’s always more that we’d like to do,” Ferney said with a chuckle, “but, yeah, I think it became more than we ever imagined.” There was always a vision of partnering up on the space for theatre, “the amazing thing is it grew and diversified,” to become a top-flight music venue attracting an international range of acts. “The other thing we didn't envision, that expanded to become part of who we are, was making the space available to the broader community, a space for nonprofits, musicians and filmmakers that can show a film, someone having a wedding reception,” just about anything, “a quality venue that they can share.”

At that point, the conversation expanded as well, as we talked of the Playhouse as a hub for the burgeoning Creamery District. This year, as the Playhouse turns 10, there are big plans for later this year, when the whole building marks a 100-year anniversary with an even bigger Creamery Centennial Celebration in August. There’s a circus coming back, the Second Annual Fervor Fest, outdoors spectacles and “interactive art exhibit” by Lush Newton that David describes as “whimsical” and “historical.” As always expect “much more.”

“At a certain point a couple of years ago [the Creamery District], burst outside its doors and spread out into the neighborhood," he said. "That’s been a big part of our focus, trying to foster creative growth in the neighborhood,” a worthy goal.

You’ve heard it before and this time it’s true: “This will sell out.” Make advance reservations at (707) 822-1575 or get advance tickets for either or both shows: Home Cookin’ Friday, Feb. 3; 10 Year Cabaret Saturday, Feb. 4, both shows 8 p.m. at the Arcata Playhouse, 1251 Ninth Street, in the historic OldCreamery Building.




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