A Trip Down Memory Lane
Scripps Ranch Theatre: The First 25 Years
by Sharon Hays

Part 2: 1984-1992

Scripps Ranch Theatre’s seventh season opened with the hugely successful, box office sellout, Oliver. This was the first, full-scale musical SRT put on. SRT publicized this show with a 4th of July parade entry with an Oliver motif, winning 1st place in the Civic Spirit Division. This season also initiated the 24-hour answering service, which at the time was located in the home of Jerry and Joyce Oen and subsequently moved to the home of Muriel and Walt Bossert. SRT also tackled its first psychological drama, Five Finger Exercises.

During the 1985-86 season, a continued push was made for new Board members and new leadership. As a volunteer organization, it was and continues to be a challenge to enlist new blood and to interest people to serve in leadership roles. That season, SRT continued its community spirit with another successful 4th of July parade entry of a huge wedding cake that featured actors as the bride, groom and pastor carrying a Bible. A “wedding party” carrying 1,000 balloons followed the float.

In the 1986-87 season, patrons were turned away for the last performance of the successful production of Come Blow Your Horn. SRT began the first of its Sunday matinees this season. Jane Merrill combined children’s theater with the Scripps Ranch Swim and Racquet Club for a one-time showing of The Wicked Witch. During this time, the Timberlane condos provided rehearsal space and performances were held at Mira Mesa High School.

SRT celebrated its 10th anniversary (1987-88 season) with a revival of Our Town, the first play that launched SRT.

During the 11th season the Board had a dilemma. Many Board members had served at least two terms, SRT was without a permanent home, and productions were done with skeleton crews. After much deliberation, the Board voted to suspend season 12. Then-President Tom O’Neill said, “I hope that taking a year to reflect and start fresh with new people and a new place to call home would be what is needed for creating theater magic.” The Board was suspended and a “caretaker” Board was named.

While the theater was dark in 1989-90, the “caretaker” Board was very active. During the first two months, the Board oversaw the disposition and preservation of assets. Then-Board President Arnie Gass outlined four issues that had to be addressed: 1) need for a new home; 2) need for an Artistic Director; 3) definition of artistic mission; and 4) role of the Board vis a vis the theater and community. In the following four months, the Board planned and produced the Art Auction fundraiser that was held in February 1990. In the subsequent four months, it laid the groundwork for the 1990-91 season.

Two shows were produced in both the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons. Scripps Ranch Theatre was not only back in business, it was back in competition. In the ’91-’92 season SRT garnered 13 Aubrey nominations. Performances of Quilters were sold out before opening night. The final performance of Ten Little Indians contained its own real-life drama. Before Captain Lombard (Rodney See) escorted Vera Claythorne (Teresa Shaffer) offstage, a final, unscripted line was added to the play when he asked her to marry him. She accepted!

In reflecting upon the 1984-92 years, Arnie Gass said, “those were arguably the most tempestuous, tumultuous, and unsettling years in SRT’s history.” The search for a permanent home was a major obstacle. Production space many times drove play selection so as to have sets that did not require special lighting or complex set dressing. Spots consisted of eight lights mounted on a beam. SRT joined in talks with the architect who was designing the permanent Scripps Ranch Library with hopes that the Community Room could be used for theater space. In the end that did not work out, although SRT participated in the library groundbreaking ceremony with Rachel Somerville and Arnie Gass performing a modified rendition of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.

However, amidst the struggles, Scripps Ranch Theatre was coming of age by the close of its 14th season. Then-President Arnie Gass summed it up best by saying, “Scripps Ranch Community Theatre has reached a new level in its depth of acting and directorial talent.”

Clearly, the early Board members and other volunteers laid the foundation for what SRT is today. They are owed a debt of gratitude for their persistence, vision and tenacity.

Next:  Part 3: 1993-2003