Cambrian: Arts & Events

Former Cambria theater troupe makes Morro Bay debut: ‘On Golden Pond’

From left: Janine Elich, Ali Burkhead, Tim Linzey, Craig Brooke, Tom Ammon and Toni Young appear in By the Sea Productions’ presentation of “On Golden Pond,” at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morro Bay.
From left: Janine Elich, Ali Burkhead, Tim Linzey, Craig Brooke, Tom Ammon and Toni Young appear in By the Sea Productions’ presentation of “On Golden Pond,” at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morro Bay. Special to The Cambrian

The former Pewter Plough Players take on a new identity — in a new home — this weekend with the first production under their new name, By The Sea Productions, in Morro Bay.

That production, “On Golden Pond,” premieres Friday, Feb. 17, at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, 545 Shasta Ave. in Morro Bay.

It’s been a busy time for the theater company, adjusting to both its new venue and its new community.

“The transition is going very well,” the troupe’s president, Anita Schwaber, said Thursday, Feb. 9. “We have loaded in our set, and everyone at the church is being very supportive. We’re hanging lights this weekend. Rehearsals are coming along nicely. Our permit has been cleared, and our website is up and running.”

The troupe moved to Morro Bay and changed its name after Pewter Plough Playhouse owner Rebecca Buckley decided to go a different direction there, adding other forms of entertainment such as poetry, jazz and other musical performances. The troupe’s lease ran out at the end of the year, and its final performance there was “Clue: The Musical,” which closed New Year’s Eve.

Less than two months later, the company’s opening in Morro Bay at its new home: St. Peter’s.

About the transition

“Yes, we miss the Pewter Plough for many reasons — mostly sentimental and because it was such a unique venue,” Schwaber said. “The two venues are very different, so it’s hard to compare. This place has its own uniqueness, and the staff — especially Rev. Sid Symington — and congregation could not be more supportive. We are enjoying getting to know all the people at the church and in the neighborhood.”

Janice Peters, a longtime Morro Bay resident — and former mayor — who’s been active in the company at the Pewter Plough, is continuing her involvement now that it’s closer to home for her.

It’s a challenge right now to think of all the details we need to take care of for opening our first show, after being so comfortable with how things were set up at the Plough, but that also gives us the opportunity to try new ways of doing things.

Janice Peters, By The Sea Productions

“Anita’s description of the transition is perfect,” she said, “but I’d add that the Morro Bay residents and businesses are all very excited to have a live theater venue in town, something we’ve wanted for years. It’s a challenge right now to think of all the details we need to take care of for opening our first show, after being so comfortable with how things were set up at the Plough, but that also gives us the opportunity to try new ways of doing things.”

For one thing, Peters said, the surroundings are different: The Plough is in the middle of a business district — Cambria’s West Village. The church is also close to the center of town, but it’s nestled in among homes on a residential street.

“I think our biggest challenge is being in a residential area,” Peters said. “We must be considerate of the neighboring homes, so we are starting our (evening) shows at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30, and holding our opening reception after the Sunday matinee instead of on Saturday evening.

“We also need to help people find us. A-frame signs and banners are not allowed in Morro Bay, unlike Cambria, so we are handing out fliers everywhere and relying on word of mouth and GPS.”

Although the Pewter Plough Playhouse was built as, well, a playhouse, putting on theater performances in a church parish requires some adjustments.

“All of the actors seem to enjoy working at the church,” Schwaber said. “The challenges stem from turning a portion of a parish hall into a theater, but it will allow for some creative staging for our other plays this year. It’s a learning experience for all of us.

All of the actors seem to enjoy working at the church. The challenges stem from turning a portion of a parish hall into a theater, but it will allow for some creative staging for our other plays this year.

Anita Schwaber, By The Sea Productions president

“If this sounds a little Pollyanna-ish, it isn’t. Everyone has pitched in, and they are making it a very positive experience. We will always wish the Pewter Plough Playhouse well.”

Cambria residents continue to be involved in the theater company, Schwaber said. Tim Linzey is a Cambria resident, and Craig Brooke, who plays a mailman in the show, coaches at Coast Union High School in Cambria, and company board member Randall Lyon lives in Cambria.

The first production

“On Golden Pond” by Ernest Thompson is directed by Gene Strohl and stars Tom Ammon and Toni Young. Other featured cast members are Janine Elich, Linzey, Ali Burkhead and Brooke.

The play tells the story of Norman and Ethel Thayer, a couple married for many years who face growing older together. The two-act drama, which takes place over a four-month period from June to September, is set at their summer home, where they confront their own issues as well as those facing their estranged daughter and her family.

In its initial run, “On Golden Pond” opened in February 1979 and ran for 126 performances at the New Apollo Theatre, with Frances Sternhagen earning a Tony Award for Best Actress as Ethel. Michael Learned and Tom Bosley starred in a 2006-07 national tour, and Jack Klugman was featured in a 2008 tour.

Writer Thompson adapted his drama for the screen in 1981, with the cast featuring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn and Jane Fonda. Hepburn earned Best Actress honors at the Academy Awards, and Henry Fonda was named Best Actor in his final film role.

Stephen H. Provost: 805-927-8896, @sproauthor

“On Golden Pond”

Tickets for the opening performance Friday, Feb. 17, are $20. An opening-day party, featuring champagne and desserts after the show, is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19. Performances continue at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, with 3 p.m. Sunday matinees, weekly through March 5. (Actual performance dates are Feb. 17-19 and 24-26, and March 3-5.

Seats for all performances except the opening party are $20 or $15 for students with ID.

Tickets are available by phone at 805-776-3287 or online at www.bytheseaproductions.org.

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