The Pewter Plough Players are leaving their home in Cambria and heading to Morro Bay, where they’ll reorganize under a new name and provide regular live theater in a larger city that currently has none.
At the Pewter Plough Playhouse, a new collection of entertainment offerings will take their place, including live theater, music, poetry readings and more.
The relationship between the nonprofit troupe and the playhouse has been unsettled since the 2015 death of Jim Buckley, who founded the theater and was its creative director for decades.
Eventually, Buckley’s widow, Rebecca Buckley, gave the acting troupe a final year in the theater before launching a series of changes as she transforms it into a for-profit operation. The group’s lease expires at the end of the year.
The current production, “Clue: The Musical,” which runs on weekends through New Year’s Eve, is the Playhouse swan song for the troupe, which is reorganizing itself as By the Sea Productions. Early next year, the group will launch at its new home in Erickson Parish Hall at St. Peter’s By the Sea Episcopal Church on Shasta Avenue in Morro Bay.
Janice Peters, frequent Players actress and secretary of the nonprofit’s board, describes the venue as a “wonderful new home” with so many possibilities.
“We can set up a little stage in the corner … and Rev. Sid Symington has been incredibly welcoming, as has the entire parish,” she said.
Players’ director Kelli Howard said seating is changeable in the parish hall, “which means we can do dinner theater, theater in the round” as well as front-stage productions.
“While we’re sorry to lose our ‘home’ and longtime association with the Playhouse,” Players’ president Anita Schwaber wrote in a recent letter to supporters, “we are excited about our new venue. … This will be a wonderful opportunity to present live theater to Morro Bay’s residents and tourists.”
Boost for Morro Bay
Morro Bay Mayor Jamie Irons echoed Schwaber’s enthusiasm when he learned Monday that the move had been confirmed.
“Great news!” he said. “There are a lot of talented folks in the arts in Morro Bay,” including a group of people skilled in the performing arts. “They have a strong passion and are really gifted. So it’s really exciting to see this happen in Morro Bay. … It will be fun, and I think probably some of our youth” also could be involved.
By the Sea’s 2017 schedule is already set and includes productions of “On Golden Pond” to run Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday matinées from Feb. 17 through March 5, “And Then There Were None” in the summer, and “Member of the Wedding” in the fall. The group also plans to do four readers’ theater presentations.
According to Peters, the cast of “On Golden Pond” will include Tom Ammon, Toni Young, Janine Elich, Ali Burkhead and Tim Linzey, with Gene Strohl directing.
By the Sea is raising funds for the move and to pay for storage of costumes, props and set furniture. However, donations must still be made out to Pewter Plough Players Inc., since that remains the legal name of the group’s 501c3 nonprofit organization.
Change in Cambria
In Cambria, Buckley has ambitious plans for the Pewter Plough Playhouse.
In an email Monday, she said changes at the Pewter Plough include converting the operation from nonprofit to for-profit status, and “adding (a) stage curtain, moving sound and light controls back up to (the) booth where they had always been, repairing (the) stage floor, painting, clearing out junk, adding dressing areas in green room … all to improve present space.”
The changes follow her earlier action of leasing the restaurant portion of the building to Giovanni Grillenzoni of Harmony Cafe.
She said of the Players’ plans: “We at the Pewter Plough Playhouse congratulate the board of directors of the Pewter Plough Players on securing a new resident venue in Morro Bay. Their name change ‘By the Sea Productions’ is certainly apropos, and we wish them well.”
However, she said, live theater will continue at the Plough, with eight stage plays planned for the coming season, beginning Feb. 3 with “Nana’s Naughty Knickers.”
“We will be producing music nights during the week, movie and dinner nights, play and poetry readings, and much, much more (with) something happening every night and afternoon in 2017,” Buckley said.
Local poet, author and singer Mary Anne Anderson announced last week that she would be hosting poetry readings on the second Wednesday of each month at the Plough.
Buckley added that she “mustn’t forget our connection with the Harmony Cafe, which is on the Pewter Plough Playhouse premises, (with) lunches during the week, dinners Friday and Saturday evenings.
“It all begins in January with music on weekends, then the full schedule begins in February.”
For details, go to www.pewterploughplayhouse.org/.
Part of the Players’ rationale for the move to Morro Bay was based on the belief that, as supportive as Cambrians are of live theater, three companies might be one too many for such a small town.
In addition to the Plough, Cambria also has the Cambria Center for the Arts Theater (CCAT), with performances in the historic Old Cambria Grammar School auditorium.
Jill Turnbow is the new artistic director there, and she’s planning three main stage plays (a light musical comedy, a dark comedy and a fairly heavy drama), along with some readers’ theater events.
Some people contacted about the upcoming shuffle still haven’t made up their minds how they feel about it or which of the theatrical groups they’ll continue to support.
Director Kelli Howard said she, Peters, Schwaber and actor Craig Brooke will move to the By the Bay company, and while David Manion, Jeff Walters and Viv Goff will finish out the year with the Players group, they’ll probably wind up with Buckley’s troupe.
Magician/actor Rick Bruce (aka the Village Wizard) said Monday, “My plan is to continue to audition and perform for the By the Sea players in Morro Bay. One of the reasons is Kelli is an extraordinary director. She makes it safe and fun. So, I’ll follow Kelli and the rest of her group.”
Bruce said he prefers “to perform for not-for-profit groups,” and that he’ll also continue to try out for CCAT productions. His ultimate aim? He’s exploring the possibilities for and seeking funding to open a small magic theater of his own. “I’m a wizard. Acting is kind of a hobby thing.”
Cambria actor and frequent live-theater audience member Oz Barron said, “I feel fine about the move. There still will be a whole year of performances at the Plough. I wish her well, and hope it’s well attended.” By the Sea’s move to Morro Bay “should be great for them and Morro Bay. There’s not a live theater there,” and the potential audience and cast base is larger.
Longtime Pewter Plough fan Gail McBride said “my gut reaction is we can’t stop change. I think since Rebecca inherited the Pewter Plough Playhouse, it’s her show. She gets to make the call.” As for By the Sea, “I believe in Morro Bay, they’ll have a bigger support group. That’s good for them.”
Asked whether she’ll continue to support all three theatrical companies, McBride said she didn’t yet have an answer to that, although she knows she’ll support CCAT, and in the end, she’ll probably support all three in one way or another.
“I like the idea that people are supporting and going to the theater.”