By JEFF CLEMETSON
On Saturday, March 14, 2020, five days before the state of California launched a mandatory lockdown for schools and businesses, the Lamplighters Community Theater launched its own lockdown.
“We were worried about [the virus] a few days before that, obviously, as everything was going on and we had a few clients who expressed their concern, so we made the decision on Saturday night, that’s it, we’re going to close, ”said Lamplighters president Paul Ericson. “We realized we were a dangerous environment at this point – a small room and close together. “
The shutdown interrupted a production of Agatha Christie’s “The Hollow” in its third week of a five-week series, and just before the end of the 81st season of Lamplighter. The future of the local La Mesa theater – part of the community since 1937 when it was known as La Mesa Little Theater – was very uncertain.
Ericson and the rest of the Lamplighters board immediately made efforts to cut expenses.
“We turned off the air conditioning, the water coolers, the heat – anything we could think of to save energy for utility bills and the like. Anything we could do, we did it, ”Ericson said. “And then we ended up being very lucky because our owner was willing to support the theater and help us through it – that was the key. This is why we are here.
Robert M. Honn, owner of the building at 5915 Severin Drive which houses the Lamplighters Theater, will soon be honored with a “very beautiful plaque” for his generous patronage of the theater, Ericson said.
And while this plaque does not adorn the lobby walls yet, theatergoers can check out some of the improvements to the Lamplighters stage and booths starting July 23 with a grand reopening of the production of “The Last Five Years. “.
Some of these improvements to the Lamplighters space during the pandemic include new lobby and hallway decor and seating improvements.
“We’ve had customers who complained that the seats were too low last year, so we actually had a team here and brought them all up,” Ericson said. “We’ve found ways to keep busy and improve some things in the theater while we wait to start.”
Another project the Lamplighters did during the pandemic, which would be the only production in its 82nd season, was to perform a play for online streaming.
James Lecesne’s “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” was a one-man show starring actor James Steinberg who played all eight characters and was directed and edited by OP Hadlock. The play was shot on the Lamplighters stage in a black box and aired online using a foreign service.
“As a production it was a success,” Ericson said. “OP did a great job, the actor did a great job. It just wasn’t a financial success.
“People want to go to the theater to see the theater,” added Pam Stompoly, producer of “The Last Five Years”. “I find it very difficult to watch a play on my computer or a television. I think part of the excitement of the theater is experienced with everyone around you at the same time. It’s a group experience.
When “The Last Five Years” opens on July 23, audiences won’t just miss the band experience, they’ll first attend a Lamplighters Theater – a musical with a live band. “The Last Five Years”, written by 2001 Tony Award-winning Jason Robert Brown, is a poignant and intelligent contemporary musical about five years in the relationship of ambitious young writer, Jamie, and his wife actress. Struggling, Cathy, played by real-life married couple Christopher and Keri Miller and is directed by Teri Brown and Jonathan Sturch.
The story explores Jamie and Cathy’s five-year relationship and is presented in a storytelling form in which Jamie’s story is told in chronological order (beginning just after the couple first met) and the story of Cathy is told in reverse chronological order (start of show to end of marriage). The characters don’t interact directly except for a wedding song in the middle when their timelines intersect.
“We decided to do this first show” The Last 5 Years “as a follow-up show as there are only two actors and we felt it was a safe choice – from a relationship with the audience – to set up something with a small distribution to start with, ”Ericson said.
A small distribution production was also a necessity, Stompoly said, because after a year and a half away from the stage, putting together a large distribution and production team would have been a “challenge.”
“There are people who have lost a lot of people during COVID, so they stay away for a while. There are people who just want to give it another year just because. But the majority of people are ready to go, ”she said.
Even with most of the professional theater professionals “on the go,” Stompoly isn’t taking any chances with the cast for Lamplighter Theater’s comeback season by hosting auditions right away and at the same time, now that the productions have all been done. chosen.
“So that’s part of what I’m trying to do, to try to set up auditions, to try to make sure all of our directors are covered, and also to look to build new relationships with new ones. people who have never been here before – bring new blood in, ”she said.
The Lamplighters Community Theater 2021-22 season program will feature six plays and a Christmas special, starting with the production of “The Last Five Years,” which begins July 23 and runs through August 15. The shows take place at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets cost $ 26 for general admission and $ 23 for students, seniors, and the military. Group rates also available. To reserve, call 619-303-5092 or visit www.lamplighterslamesa.com.
– Contact editor Jeff Clemetson at [email protected]