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Troupes Scouting Out New Audiences

Shows such as 'Charlie Brown' and 'Miracle Worker' are migrating to venues throughout the county.


A number of local community theaters have recently hit the highways--"taking the show to the audience," in producer Gabriel Vega's words, "instead of waiting for the audience to come to the show."

Vega's new Comedy Tonight Productions will move its all-seniors version of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" to Ojai and Simi Valley after its initial run, which begins Friday in Thousand Oaks.

The Santa Paula Theater Center took its 1994 production of the musical "Quilters" to the Center Stage Theater in Santa Barbara. Since then, the Santa Paula group has taken "Of Mice and Men" and "The Miracle Worker" from Santa Paula to Simi Valley's Cultural Arts Center, where David Ralphe, artistic director of the Santa Paula group, is general manager.

Ralphe began moving his productions, he explained, "to develop new audiences, and to expand performance opportunities for the actors." While his shows have only broken even so far, he said the Santa Barbara production of "Quilters" resulted in reviews and feature articles in the local newspapers, radio exposure and a number of new names for the 95-seat Santa Paula group's mailing list.

Simi Valley made a lot of sense, Ralphe said, because the 260-seat Simi Valley Center doesn't produce its own theatrical shows, though other companies have rented space.

"We've been getting a lot of people to the two Simi productions who are now very supportive of the Santa Paula Theater Center," he said. "Some are now coming to Santa Paula to see the shows; others are making a point of asking when the Santa Paula shows are coming to Simi Valley."

For Vega, who will follow "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" with a touring production of "The Mikado," touring makes sense. "In most of the plays that I have been in (including "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Oklahoma!" in Ojai), the audience is made up to some degree of the actors' friends, families and followers. And the actors themselves come from all over the county and beyond. We see touring the county as a way of extending our potential audience," Vega said.

There's also the question of distance. Ventura County audiences don't seem to like to drive more than 15 minutes or so unless they're going to Los Angeles or Santa Barbara.

"One senior citizens' group from Ventura didn't want to see 'Charlie Brown' in Thousand Oaks," said Vega, "but is happy to go to Ojai. There's only about 10 minutes' difference in driving time, but that Conejo grade can be daunting."

Classics in the Park was designed with the intention of moving around. Performing throughout Ventura and Los Angeles counties for the past several summers, they'll be taking Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona" to outdoor locations from Calabasas to Ojai in July and August.

Toni Frisk, who is directing "Verona," said that breaking new territory can offer unexpected rewards. "A couple of years ago we played in Pasadena, and the wrong date had been advertised. So when we showed up, the audience we got was whoever already happened to be in the park. A lot of the kids, I'm sure, had never heard of Shakespeare, and they loved 'Much Ado About Nothing.' "

* "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" opens Friday night at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Road in Thousand Oaks, and continues weekends through June 30. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays, with a 4 p.m. matinee on June 23 only. General admission tickets are $10; $9 for seniors and students, and $8 for children under 12. The show will move to Ojai and Simi Valley on dates to be announced. For reservations (mandatory, as several performances are already sold out) or further information, call 381-2747.

Casting Call: The Elite Theatre Company will hold auditions for Jack Sharkey's comedy, "Honestly Now," at 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at Petit Playhouse, 730 South B St. in Oxnard's Heritage Square. For further information, call 984-6117.

Auditions for Comedy Tonight's touring production of "The Mikado" will be held between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. June 15 and 16 at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Road in Thousand Oaks. The production will run weekends, Aug. 23 through Oct. 6. For further information, call 389-3193.

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