By CAMILLE GAVIN, Contributing columnist
For the first time in 18 months Spotlight Theatre will open its doors for a show of its own. "Tick, Tick Boom," a rock musical by "Rent" author Jonathan Larson, opens Friday for six performances.
True, the downtown theater had been used periodically on a rental basis by other organizations since February 2012, when the board announced it was cutting short its season. But except for those few occasions, Spotlight's stage mostly has been vacant.
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Spotlight Theatre, 1622 19th St.
60 Plus Possibilities Day
When: 9 to 11 a.m. today
Where: Cal State Bakersfield, Student Union, 9001 Stockdale Highway
'We Haven't Located Us Yet'
Opening reception: 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Empty Space Gallery, 706 Oak St.
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdaysthrough Oct. 22 and 10 a.m. to noon Wednesdays through Oct. 23
Where: Bakersfield Museum of Art, 1930 R St.
Cost: $165; $150 for BMOA members
So what caused the renaissance?
"These two girls, Megan Gillette and Terry Dowda, came to us and wanted to do this show," said board president Peggy Darling. "They're both experienced, mainly on the technical side, and they were so excited about doing it that we approved it."
Gillette, 34, a theater arts graduate of Cal State Bakersfield, told me during a recent phone conversation about why she and Dowda wanted to do this particular musical, which was written by Larson a few years before his death at age 36.
"Basically, for three reasons," she said. "It's a small cast, it appeals to fans of Jonathan Larson, and it's in step with what Spotlight has done in (previous) seasons."
Gillette should have a pretty good knowledge of what those seasons consisted of. In one way or another she's been involved in the Spotlight continually since it opened nearly 15 years ago and is a long-time friend of Emily Thiroux, the theater's founder who now lives in Ventura.
"Tick, Tick" was originally written as a monologue, with Larson playing all parts, Gillette said. He was 30 when he wrote it and critics have described the musical play as a compelling story of personal discovery.
"It's almost a universal theme -- it's a metaphor for life," Gillette said. "At some point in our lives we dream about being somebody or doing something but wonder if it's really going to happen. Is it passing you by or are you going to reach up and grab that dream?"
The cast is made up of Amanda Douglas, Andrew Melton and Josh Hefner. The three actors play the parts of about 11 different characters. All of the singing is done live to instrumental recordings.
Performances of "Tick, Tick" continue through Sept. 28.
Meanwhile, Porter Jamison is in rehearsals for a multimedia show titled "Lost Bakersfield," which opens Oct. 11 at Spotlight. He's the author and it's about "things we used to have that we don't have anymore" -- things like the Union Avenue Plunge and Memorial Hospital's High Fever Follies.
Darling said the Spotlight also plans to do a Christmas show but the board has made no plans that go beyond Dec. 31.
Meanwhile, Tonicism Productions, a children's theater workshop, has begun an after-school program at the Spotlight, moving from its traditional location at The Empty Space.
The workshop, which meets from 3:45 to 5:45 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, started this week, but students will be accepted through Sept. 25. The cost is $250, and the age range is 5 to 18 years.
The children will be performing a "musical romp" titled "How to Eat Like a Child and Other Lessons in Not Being a Grown-Up." The workshop will hold classes daily from Nov. 11-22, and performances are slated Nov. 23 and 24. For more information, call 861-1314.
Husband and wife artists
A new exhibit opening Saturday at The Empty Space Gallery reminds me of a few faded photos I've hung onto for years. The people in the pictures are unidentified but I haven't the heart to throw them in the trash.
In a broader sense, the husband and wife team of Shelley Juhl-O'Brien and Christopher O'Brien have developed an artistic solution for such a dilemma.
"The title of the show, 'We Haven't Located Us Yet,' refers to the fact that these people have no names --nobody knows them," said Shelley. "But these nameless people have a permanent place in a stranger's home or shoe box in an antique store."
To underscore the subjects' anonymity, nearly all are faceless. A painting titled "Fambly Porch" is one of the exceptions.
This particular portrait shows five people dressed in 1890s-style clothing but only one, a young boy wearing knickers, has facial features. The faces of the other four -- one senses they are his parents and grandparents --are completely blank.
Gallery curator Jesus Fidel explained how the O'Briens work together to create these nostalgic and occasionally humorous paintings.
"Using whimsical hues of washed- out watercolors, Shelley begins the underlay, creating all of the color and structure of the piece," Fidel said. "Then, without (employing) fine precision, Christopher draws, paints, bleeds, and splatters wet ink over the piece as the detail on the dry, rough paper."
Like "Fambly Porch," several of the 13 paintings have a gentle, homey look while others have more exuberance.
For example, one can almost imagine the repartee between two musicians -- a fiddler and a guitarist -- in a piece made much livelier with strong strokes of Christopher's pen.
"Combining both of their styles," Fidel said, "they (O'Briens) abstract the bare essence of the chosen vintage photograph, turning these 'lost' portraits into beautiful 'found' art."
This is the second time The Empty Space has hosted an exhibit of the O'Briens' work. The show will be on display through Sept. 30.
New year for 60 Plus Club
The 60 Plus Club opens its 2013-14 year today with its annual Possibilities Day in the Student Union building at Cal State Bakersfield.
Robert Price, editor of The Californian's editorial page, is guest speaker. He'll share his perspectives on where Cal State has been and where it's going, according to club president Ted Murphy, a retired biology professor.
The day is designed to stimulate an interest and appreciation for the club's many interest groups.
Membership in the club is open to anyone age 60 or older who wants to remain active, gain new friendships and help support the goals of the university. I've been a member for 12 years and it's one of my favorite organizations because it offers so many choices.
Free parking for today's event is available on Lots L and K on the east side of the campus.
Art Sherwyn, known for his informal teaching methods, is offering two six-week visual art workshops that begin next week at the Bakersfield Museum of Art.
To quote the artist, the instruction will be "a fun, hands-on, no-fail, low-stress, and life-enriching experience."
More specifically, students will engage in drawing, painting, collage, perspective, color, composition and design, as well as art history and appreciation.
The evening class begins on Tuesday, the morning class on Wednesday. See accompanying information box for details.
Arts Council funding
Anthony Goss, president of the Arts Council of Kern, says he and the rest of his board are grateful for the $100,000 in funding approved by the Board of Supervisors at a recent meeting. The total amount is a $35,000 increase over what the council got last year from the county.
"We appreciate their support of our efforts to rebuild the ACK," said Goss, who also is serving as interim executive director.
As of now, the council hasn't decided whether it will use the extra money to fund more grant requests from artists and arts organization or steer it into other programs throughout the county.
"We were planning on $15,000 in community grants before the increase in (county) funding," Goss said. "We will either increase the amount of our grant allocations or designate certain projects in our outlying areas as a direct reflection of the additional financial support from the supervisors."
The Arts Council has struggled this year, both in terms of personnel and funding. The council lost nearly half of its budget -- $550,000 -- last winter when Kern Regional Center chose not to renew its contracts with the arts advocacy and education organization, which was formed in 1977.