Transcendence makes impact on community
When 900 people showed up for their first show in the summer of 2012 – where maybe 100 were expected – it was an augur of things to come for the Transcendence Theatre Company’s partnership with Jack London State Historic Park, a partnership forged to provide support for an ailing park system and make a home for a budding company of nationally recognized musical performers.
TTC has just finished its third successful year presenting Broadway music reviews in the open air winery ruins at Jack London’s old Glen Ellen estate on Sonoma Mountain, providing a level of entertainment seldom seen outside of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Chicago, and delighting audiences who come back again and again for more singing, dancing and pure old-school entertainment.
The numbers are telling: Over 16,000 people have attended TTC performances since 2012, raising over $117,000 for Jack London State Historic Park – threatened with closure in 2009 because of state budget woes. A coalition of concerned local citizens and groups, including the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association and the Sonoma Ecology Center, stepped up and volunteered time and money to not only keep the park open, but make it thrive and expand as well. Having TTC join the contingent was pure serendipity that has worked to everyone’s advantage.
Broadway Under the Stars was named number two of USA Today’s list of “10 Best Outdoor Concert Venues You Shouldn’t Miss.” Last year, it was named Broadway World San Francisco’s 2013 “Theatre of the Year,” along with several other accolades for choreography and special events.
TTC is nothing if not innovative, which was apparent when the opening song from Guys and Dolls was sung from horseback on top of the winery ruins. A complete condensed version of Les Miserables was sung in just seven minutes, and a miniature pony and live goat were on hand for a rendition of “The Lonely Goatherd.”
Broadway Under the Stars presented three distinct music reviews and two gala closing shows this summer, an Artist Series that included performances by the legendary Ben Vereen and Sonoma’s own Lexy Fridell, and a Broadway Kids Camp that resulted in the kids performing onstage for the Fantastical Family Shows.
The Artist Series were presented at local wineries, including Chateau St. Jean and Landmark in Kenwood, and inaugurated the new amphitheater at Paradise Ridge Winery at Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa.
“Our full mission is to bring moments of transcendence,” co-director Stephan Stubbins said. “We want to bring alive the child in everybody.” TTC wants “to extend beyond who can pay to see the shows,” he added.
Besides the Broadway Kids Camp, the artists worked with grieving children at the WillMar Family Grief and Healing Center, Alzheimer’s patients of the Adobe House of Petaluma, and with teens from Sonoma Teen Services, events which had a big impact on the residents and kids.
“Twenty-two of their artists performed with the kids, doing improvisation based on the poems of Shel Silverstein for over two and a half hours,” Barbara Cullen, executive director of the WillMar Center said.
“It was a way the kids could heal or learn ways that they can work through their grief,” Cullen said. “It was also good juice for the performers. They really felt connected. Some said it really brought light to why they are the showmen they are. We are grateful to be one of their collaborators.”
Pamela Tryon, Life Enrichment Coordinator for Petaluma’s Adobe House, is a total fan of TTC.
“It was a phenomenal group of people,” Tryon said of the 30 performers who came and managed to carry on in spite of rain that forced everyone into a much smaller space than originally planned.
“The performance touched my residents,” Tryon said. “Music is one of the few things that connects our brains differently. People who can’t speak to you are able to sing familiar songs. They could sing to this music. And where a lot of our residents can’t usually sit still for long, they had the whole audience captivated. They wanted to be there for the moment.”
Tryon appreciated that the songs were carefully researched and were entirely appropriate for the audience. “They put forth effort and made it their own. It was simply magical.”
Cristin Lawrence, executive director of Sonoma Teen Services was also impressed with their interaction with TTC.
“Not only did they come and do a presentation for our teens, but they talked to teens about opportunities for work in the performing arts, about being who you are and feeling that you can follow your heart,” Lawrence said. You can actually do something that you love in life. It was really powerful.”
One teen mentor wrote after the event to say, “My mentee … was very motivated to pursue his dreams of going into acting. He shared yesterday that he had thought about it for a long time, but didn’t think anyone would support him. All the stories yesterday from the cast and people from the company made him feel like he could.”
The interaction with the teens ran both ways. TTC used STS’s Lovin’ Oven caterers at several events as well as had teens volunteer to set up chairs for some performances. “It’s a good partnership and we have had great experiences with them,” Lawrence said. “We are about employment and career resources, but always look for ways to expand teen horizons.”
It looks like Transcendence Theatre Company will be in our community for many years to come.