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Eight Ojai Groups Join Forces in New Guild

Co-founders Geoff Foley, Wayne Pickerell and Carl Tolbert say organization will cut costs on expenses such as insurance.


With nearly two dozen community theater groups operating regularly throughout Ventura County, there's a surprising lack of organization among them--a failing that several groups are attempting to correct with the recent formation of the Ojai Theater Guild.

Eight companies are represented, ranging from the Ojai Shakespeare Festival to the Illusions troupe, which caters primarily to children.

Co-founders Geoff Foley, Wayne Pickerell and Carl Tolbert are all veterans of Ojai's theater scene.

"I was surprised that there were so many theater groups and so many theater-oriented people in Ojai, and we're all being challenged by the same things--you've got to have lights, you've got to have a theater, you've got to have somebody in the box office, and so on," explained Pickerell, whose new Ojai Civic Light Opera Company will produce "Camelot" this summer.

By combining their resources, the Guild members expect to save money on such items as storage space and such necessary intangibles as insurance.

"By combining forces, each group chops its insurance liability fees by 700% or 800%," adds Foley, whose Commedia dell' Ojai consists of members of Explorer Post 2500.

First on the Guild's agenda, as far as the public is concerned, is a master calendar listing the members' events, casting notices and so on, with a first printing of 10,000 copies.

"This is a very welcome group," says Tolbert, who's on the boards of the Ojai Shakespeare Festival and the Ojai Theater Company (which soon will be staging Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth").

"Everybody sees the advantage of it," he said, quickly adding that each group will maintain its own artistic vision.

A countywide theater league would be even more beneficial, but the parochial tendencies of community theater producers and the fact that the county is divided into distinct communities makes such a union difficult, if not impossible.

But in tightly knit, somewhat isolated Ojai, it might work, as Foley noted with a chuckle. "Enough of us know each other that we are aware of each other's strengths and eccentricities. We can conduct a lot of business at the bank, at the Pony League baseball games. I can talk to a lot of people without having to phone them."

Those wishing to be placed on the Guild's mailing list or to volunteer (grant writers are sought, in particular), contact 649-2091.

Or, If You're Wired: . . . You might want to call up the Ventura County Community Theater's Web page, set up by Lee Johnsen. A computer whiz with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Johnsen is on the board of the Camarillo Community Theater. The page is open to all local groups, free, with Johnsen handling the data entry.

The site so far includes a handsome layout on the Camarillo group's recent production of "Annie," information on their upcoming "Oliver!" and some outdated coverage of other local groups.

"I put up some information on the Plaza Players, just to show what could be done," says Johnsen, "but no one from the group has contacted me." He's had better luck elsewhere, with an estimated 20 "hits" on his page daily.

"I even had one fellow from back East send me a script for a show he'd like us to do," Johnsen said.

Those interested in contributing information about their productions, or seeing what's up locally, should point their browsers to

Casting Call: The Elite Theatre Company will hold auditions for Jack Sharkey's comedy, "Honestly Now," at 7 p.m. June 10 and 11 at the Petit Playhouse, 730 South B St. in Oxnard's Heritage Square. Mark Nagode and Linda Hyde are co-directors. Call 984-6117.

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