Comedian Ray Romano once admitted, “I have this mistress: show business.” As everyone who has trod the boards knows, she can be a harsh mistress. To wit: recent budget cuts have put Monterey Peninsula College’s Drama Department in danger and forced Shakespeare Santa Cruz to draw the curtain on its 32-year run.
But Carmel’s Pacific Repertory Theatre (PacRep) is still going strong, thank you very much. And that’s due in no small measure to the dedication, passion and just plain old hard work of the non profit theater group’s co-founder and Executive Director, Stephen Moorer.
PacRep’s origins harken back to the early 1980s, when Moorer and a group of like-minded thespians performed impromptu shows around the Peninsula. Moorer recalls, “We were kiddingly known as the ‘Nomadic Theatre’ because we didn’t have a permanent home. We used schools, parks, the end of Fisherman’s Wharf—any stage or empty street corner we could perform on, we did.” The troupe’s first production was “Scapino!” based on a Molière comedy. At one point, this talented young group put on a courtroom drama called “Nuts” in a Monterey County court room. Though they performed a wide range of material, “Shakespeare and the classics were—and still are—grounding points for us,” Moorer says.
Homelessness came to an end when the group acquired space at 320 Hoffman in New Monterey. “The building had been home to a Scientology center,” Moorer says. “We found a lot of L. Ron Hubbard literature while renovating the space.” With permanent digs came a fancy new name: GroveMont Theatre Arts Center.
Around this time, Moorer and his group launched Monterey Bay TheatreFest, a popular annual celebration of the dramatic arts that enjoyed a 16-year run at Monterey’s Custom House Plaza. Popular attractions included the “Human Chess Game” and “Fairy Tale Theatre.” A 300-seat tent was erected each year to facilitate more elaborate productions. The impresario truly hit his stride in these years, gathering the team that would carry his dream to the next act. “Dan Gotch and [the late] John Rousseau came on board,” Moorer says, “and Julie Hughett joined us as business manager.” By 1987, the quartet was known as the Four Musketeers of the local theater community.
GroveMont eventually decamped for larger digs on Washington Street in Monterey, but the group always dreamed of owning its building. That chance came when a noteworthy piece of Carmel real estate came up on the market. The historic Golden Bough Theater was founded in the early 1920s by Edward Kuster. Described as “the most beautiful and perfectly equipped intimate playhouse in America,” the original building burned in 1935 and was resurrected at its present site on Monte Verde. After serving for decades as a United Artists cinema, the building was tired and its owners decided to sell. “I had spent many hours watching movies there as a kid,” Moorer says. “When I learned that the property was being advertised as four residential lots, I knew something needed to be done to save the theater.”
The Musketeers raised half a million dollars in four months. A perennial PacRep angel, The Packard Foundation, lent the remainder of the purchase price. “We closed on the building in early 1995,” Moorer says, adding proudly, “and paid it off within three years.” PacRep thus became one of a mere handful of year-round community theaters in the U.S. to hold deed to its own facility. That fact saved the organization during the recession that hit in the wake of 9/11. The theater went dark for a few months, but Moorer says, “We didn’t have a huge mortgage over our heads, and didn’t lose our building like so many theaters did.” PacRep recently completed a $2.5 million upgrade of its stage and production areas. “We went against what most theaters would do and built out our artist spaces first,” Moorer says. A fundraising campaign is currently underway to finance the renovation of the audience portion. Fundraising aside, it’s the plays that keep the wolf from the stage door. And some productions are more profitable than others. PacRep’s mission statement promises that it “presents the great plays from the world stage.” “When we became a ‘regional’ institution, it became our responsibility to become more universal,” Moorer says. “That means producing shows that appeal to the 1,000 that like Shakespeare and also the 10,000 that want to enjoy Disney.” Put another way, “it takes a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to pay for a ‘Julius Caesar.’”
“Jesus Christ Superstar” is the first production on PacRep’s 2014 calendar and its 433rd production since that first show in 1983. “That’s 433 productions, not performances,” marvels Moorer. He estimates that each presentation mounts between 15 and 20 shows, meaning that in three decades Moorer and his chums have put on at least 7,000 performances. “That boggles my mind,” he says.
For more information and ticket sales, visit www.pacrep.org or call 831/622-0100.