So long, farewell

So long, farewell

A theater reviewer occupies a unique position. Invited into the artistic equivalent of someone’s home, you’re confronted with flesh-and-blood human beings and asked to offer feedback on other artists’ most precious efforts. That relationship creates a certain intimacy since, unlike film, there is no screen to preserve distance. The art is so close you can sometimes touch it — either terrifying or thrilling.

Over the last three years as VCR critic, it has been my profound privilege to sit in our theater community’s living rooms. When I was growing up in Ventura County, attending theater was a revered fixture of my family’s life, but our experiences tended (whether through available choices or personal preference) toward conventional favorites like Rodgers and Hammerstein. As a critic, it has been deeply exciting to watch what seems to be a perceptible shift toward productions that keep pace with a larger cultural conversation. Both theater-makers and the audiences who watch them are developing more sophisticated tastes and increasingly opting for plays that speak to contemporary conflicts and concerns. If art is meant to show us how to live, then at least sometimes it needs to reflect our lives as we live them today. With this gradual evolution, Ventura County is finally getting the arts scene it deserves.

Recent years have seen exciting and painful changes: the loss of Ojai’s Theater 150 as well as the sustained success of Ojai Art Center Theater; the revival and hibernation of Transport Theater Company, whose performances remain stellar if infrequent; the rebirth of Skyway Playhouse as a venue for daring concept shows, including the county’s first performance of The Laramie Project; the steady transformation of Elite Theater with a spacious new venue and the invigorating co-leadership of Andrew David James; the consistent excellence of companies like Santa Paula Theater Center and the Rubicon; the classical education proffered by Senga Classic Stage Company productions and their strong female heroines; the thriving audiences that support lavish mainstage musicals at Conejo Players and High Street, including the county’s first production of Les Miserables; and the settling of the Flying H Group in Ventura, with hip, relevant fare already planned for 2014.

Mindful that I am also part of the theater ecosystem, I’ve decided to step down and allow a new critic to take the reins. Fresh blood is essential for any enterprise, and I look forward to savoring the continued richness of the county’s offerings from afar. I remain deeply appreciative of the professionalism, graciousness and passion I’ve witnessed in my reviewing capacity.

What follows is a (by no means complete) list of some of the top work I saw in 2013. If these are any indication, the future for Ventura County theater looks very bright.

Costumes – Barbara Mazeika, Penny Krevenas, Kyle Duncan, Leanna Crenshaw, Beth Glasner, Les Miserables, High Street Arts Center; Heather Smith and Sheryl Jo Bedal, Skin of Our Teeth, Ojai Art Center Theater

Lighting – Peter Hunt and Jeremy Pivnick, Our Town, Rubicon; Steve Grumette, Skin of Our Teeth, Ojai Art Center Theater

Set Design – Neva Ann Williams, Skin of Our Teeth, Ojai ACT; Alex Choate, Company, Skyway Playhouse

Musical Direction – Matthew Park, Les Miserables, Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi; Trevor Wheetman, Lonesome Traveler, Rubicon Theatre Company

Choreography – Miriam Durrie-Kirsch, Spamalot, Conejo Players Theatre; Arryck Adams and Tami Keaton, Damn Yankees, Conejo Players Theatre

Supporting Male – Michael Beck (Buddy), The Diviners, Elite Theatre Company; Christopher Mahr (Patsy), Spamalot, Conejo Players Theatre

Lead Male – Taylor Kasch, Death of a Salesman, Santa Paula Theater Center

Supporting Female – Natasha Schlaffer (Thomasina Coverly), Arcadia, Santa Paula Theater Center; Brittney Wheeler (Elizabeth), In the Next Room, Santa Paula Theater Center

Lead Female – Jenna Scanlon (Hannah Jarvis), Arcadia, Santa Paula Theater Center; Tracey Williams, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Ojai Art Center Theater

Ensemble – Arcadia, Santa Paula Theater Center; The Diviners, Elite Theatre Company; In the Next Room, Santa Paula Theater Center; Spamalot, Conejo Players Theatre

Direction – David Ralphe, Death of a Salesman, Santa Paula Theater Center; James Castle Stevens, The Diviners, Elite Theatre Company

Special Consideration:
Best Production Concept – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Skyway Playhouse

Best Specialty Prop – Curse of the House of Atreus, Senga Classic Stage Company

Best Facelift – Elite Theatre Company

Best Season – Santa Paula Theater Center

So long, farewell

So long, farewell

When City Councilman Brian Brennan first joined the council in 1997, his desire to affect the handling of environmental issues came with him.

Over his 16 years on the Council and his two years as mayor, Brennan became known as the champion of the green movement while working alongside his peers to adopt environmentally friendly ordinances and by sitting on several committees, such as the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District and with the state at the California Coastal Commission.

With assistance from fellow Councilman Carl Morehouse, Brennan proposed a plastic-bag ban this year that would have the city follow in the footsteps of neighboring Ojai and Santa Barbara.

At his final city council meeting, Brennan accepted plaques, awards and various trinkets in recognition of his service – and became an honorary member of Cub Scout pack 3143 after receiving the community service patch.

Brennan’s final day with the Council was Monday, Dec. 2, and he spoke with the VCReporter prior to his departure.

VC Reporter: Congratulations on a long tenure with the Council. What issues are still concerns for you as you leave office?
Brian Brennan:
I was just a little disappointed that the plastic-bag initiative didn’t come to the Council while I was sitting on the Council. It’s scheduled to come Dec. 16. I’m still working hard on that and still working on sustainability issues.

Am I ready to go? I see things that I could continue to work on. The city’s really greened itself up internally, not because of me but just because I think the Council has come to the realization that we’re a green community. That’s always made it enjoyable to be on the Council, knowing that you have a forward lean.

Where do you see the Council moving in regard to environmental issues?
For the Council as a whole, it’s probably not the No. 1 thing. Some of the things don’t require money, though; some of them just require attention. I do hope the new Council continues on in the footsteps with what the other Councils have done. It’s been a part of the Council’s mandate and I hope they continue in that direction.


The plastic-bag ban, you’re pretty certain it’ll pass at this point?

No, I’m not. I don’t mean to be flippant — I would be excited if it did, but I think it’s something the city as a whole needs. The amount of money and energy the city spends cleaning up plastic bags in the rivers and creeks and on the beaches and parks is a fair amount of money. I would just hope the Council would recognize that.

Can you influence change better from within or out?
The reason I ran for Council was that I figured I needed more than three minutes at the podium on some issues, but I think I know how government works now. I’m more interested in working on solutions for climate change and coastal resiliency in terms of sea level rise. Those are things that are important to me and I want to make sure I keep working in that direction.

Would it be fair to say that you’re trying to be more global rather than focused solely on the city?
Well, I’m not so sure. For instance, the project at Surfer’s Point: that’s a model we use now in a number of areas up and down the coast; and back in Texas and in Florida and in North Carolina, they’re using what we’re doing here. Act locally, think globally. Acting locally, can be a model for thinking globally?

While I do focus on those, I’m really more focused on what we can do here and in so doing, being able to prove that other areas can do the same thing.

What will your lasting legacy be?
My waterless urinal. I’m kidding. I had a waterless urinal installed in the Council chambers maybe eight years ago and we’ve saved 40,000 gallons a year, nearly half a million gallons saved. That being said, I wouldn’t say that it was just me but being able to help steer the Council and the city in a direction to embrace its waterfront, to embrace its water line. There is a good thing about having good water quality. It’s important to the residents, it’s important to the tourists who come out, and it’s important to the eco-system.

I think the Brownfields grant that I got from the EPA to look at the contaminated areas around the Avenue and downtown were vital. The visioning the Council went through 13 years ago and the award-winning general plan. The inclusionary housing ordinance that I brought forward, along with — there’s so many things I can’t even remember.

Mainly it’s just a mindset that a city, even with limited resources, can do good things. The reason why it can do that is because of the strength and commitment of the employees of the city of Ventura. The water department, the parks department — they’re out there every day being of service. It has been an honor for me to be a leader in a community that has that kind of commitment by their employees to the residents. 

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