Santa Paula Times

SPTC: 20th Season for theater that started in church basement

October 13, 2006
Santa Paula News

SPTC Board President Leslie Nichols addressed the history of and present doings at the Santa Paula Theater Center at a recent Rotary Club meeting.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesSPTC Board President Leslie Nichols addressed the history of and present doings at the Santa Paula Theater Center at a recent Rotary Club meeting.Nichols, SPTC’s Board leader for a decade, also is the primary producer and occasionally acts - both to great reviews - in the plays staged by the theater.The SPTC is celebrating its 20th Season this year, due to the “community at large” that has proven to be “very supportive” since the theater’s inception.“...SPTC was founded by two Los Angeles actors,” Dana Elcar and Bill Lucking, the former being told he should look up the latter when he and his family moved to Santa Paula in about 1984.When they met, “Dana and Bill explored whether there was enough interest,” funds and creativity to “create a theater of the community.”There was and the duo opened on a rebuilt stage in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church.They soon realized that the success of the basement venue “proved that Santa Paula,” and other communities “wanted a theater,” said Nichols.An official of Teague-McKevett Corp. approached the SPTC board in 1988 and offered the Ebell Clubhouse - for the theater’s use.
“There are some restricting conditions,” noted Nichols, including turning the historic building over to the city or the Community Fund if SPTC ceases to exist.“We did open the first show of our third season,” and the theater continued to be successful although Elcar and Lucking eventually parted ways.“We carried on with Dana until the ninth season,” when the famed character actor - who passed away last year - found that his schedule of shooting a popular long-running television series in Canada and paying attention to the SPTC was challenging.Elcar’s decision to step down was reinforced by his blindness, although he continued to enjoy a successful acting career.Nichols turned to her longtime friend, actor and director David Ralphe, for help in finding a new artistic director and when the two started to interview candidates, “I turned to David and said ‘Why don’t you do it?’ “ At times some union production members are paid although Ralphe is a “volunteer, like the rest of us.”Ralphe continues to oversee SPTC selections although he has since taken a position as the artistic director of the Simi Valley Theater, which often stages SPTC productions.“We have a five-show season,” that includes “a grand old favorite of the past,” as well as a comedy, mystery and contemporary productions as well as a special holiday production.“Sometimes we’re even in the black” although it’s challenging to keep up with the needs of the 1917 building - a registered National Landmark - that holds the 100-seat theater.“Santa Paula Theater Center has a terrific artistic reputation,” said Nichols, and those who have been affiliated with its productions “have a feather in their cap...” widely recognized in the theater world.