A Trip Down Memory Lane
Scripps Ranch Theatre: The First 25 Years
by Sharon Hays
Part 3: 1993-2003
In a 1993 letter to Board members and friends, then-SRT president Arnie Gass presented three challenges: 1) find a permanent home; 2) develop an artistic vision or purpose; i.e., standards for play selection and “who we want to be;” and 3) develop a stronger community base and involvement. These themes echoed those of SRT’s past.
During the 1992-93 season the first challenge was met. My husband, who was then President of USIU, and I approached then-SRT President Bob Hitchcox about moving the theater from the Mira Mesa storefront to USIU, which resulted in a long-term relationship between SRT and USIU. SRT had come full circle, having launched itself at the Legler Benbough Theatre in 1978. Hitchcox noted in the April 1994 program for Night of January 16th, “we have a “real” home on the Ranch and we have honest to goodness theater seats…no more wooden folding chairs!”
At the same time additional marketing efforts were undertaken. Senior centers were approached about bringing groups on “Senior Sundays.” Scripps Ranch organizations such as the Welcome Club and the Women’s Club were asked to initiate “theater nights” as part of their social activities. More recently, the Scripps Ranch Civic Association buys out an extra performance as a thank you for its newsletter distributors. Special performances of To Kill a Mockingbird and Fences were held for Scripps Ranch High School students who were reading those works in their classes.
Play selection focused on having seasons mixed with comedies, dramas and musicals. In 1996 SRT joined the San Diego Performing Arts League, an umbrella organization that assists its members with marketing, fundraising and other activities.
The Board launched other efforts to provide patrons with unique experiences.
- Ivan Menchell, who wrote The Cemetery Club, attended a performance and did a “talk-back” with the audience, followed by a reception.
- At the opening-night reception of I Do!, I Do! guests were treated to wedding cake and printed napkins.
- The 1997-98 season was the “season of trees” with life-size trees on the sets of The Cemetery Club, The Fantasticks! and To Kill a Mockingbird.
- A gospel choir entertained patrons during pre-show and intermission of To Kill a Mockingbird.
- Large-scale musicals such as A Chorus Line and How to Succeed in Business were undertaken, despite the small space.
- Special thank-you events have been held for season ticket holders.
- The annual awards banquet -complete with music and auction items- in recent years has drawn 150 people.
Between the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons, the theater was renovated. USIU obtained a $95,000 grant from the Legler Benbough Foundation, largely because of the relationship with SRT, which resulted in a new stage, light/sound booth, seats, carpet and lighting. In 1997 John Simonds became SRT’s first artistic director, followed by Jill Drexler in 2002. Primary responsibilities include play selection, director/producer selection, and ensuring quality of the overall productions. In 2001 Raylene Wall assumed the role of technical director, responsible for sound, lights, and backstage equipment, as well as training new technicians. In May 2001 SRT launched its first-ever web site.
The combination of a “permanent” home, enhanced marketing, and quality productions has resulted in greater demand for tickets. During the last two seasons, extra performances have been added to accommodate the sold-out crowds. Currently, SRT has over 1,000 season ticket holders. Over the years SRT has won numerous Aubrey Awards in countywide competition.
Scripps Ranch Theatre ended its 25th season with numerous accomplishments. Many volunteers are to be commended for their commitment and efforts in making SRT what it is today. Thanks also to season ticket holders and other patrons for their support. What began as B. J. Scott’s idea 25 years ago has matured into a highly respected performing arts organization. Thanks to all of you who have played a role in this success.