Coming Back ‘Together’: PCPA Returns with Show Searching for Commonality
Although even its outdoor theater in Solvang was dark all last year, PCPA Theaterfest took to virtual programming right away after COVID hit, offering weekly conversations with alumni around the country along with Zoom readings of works new to the area, then upped the ante with produced longer-form videos, including cabarets over the holiday season and last spring.
This weekend, PCPA is springing back into live action at the Solvang Festival Theater, its stunning under-the-stars venue in the Danish-themed village. A musical revue is still on the menu, at least for the first show, but it’s an original piece created by Erik Stein, the company’s 20-year veteran associate artist and casting director.
Together: A Musical Journey marks a return to live performance in front of an audience by examining the virtues of that act itself, celebrating being able to share experiences through story and song and reveling in the simple idea that life is better when we live it together. PCPA’s Resident Artists Stein, Kitty Balay, Andrew Philpot, Yusef Seevers, Emily Trask, and George Walker, and guest artist Annali Fuchs-Wackowski, share the tales and the tunes that range from Irving Berlin and George Gershwin to Justin Timberlake and Carole King along with Broadway favorites from Crazy for You and Company, among others. Stein shared the “Together” backstory over the phone earlier this month.
Q. I’m told we’re supposed to be focused on getting back to normal, but it seems disingenuous not to ask you about PCPA producing all those videos and virtual readings during the last 16 months.
A. We kept trying to figure out ways to stay connected with our audiences. I’m a big believer that restraint breeds creativity. So, when you throw an obstacle in front of an actor, we’re going to try to figure out different ways to get around it. Doing a show on Zoom or filming stuff in our houses and editing it together and putting it on YouTube is in no way, shape or form the same as a live performance, where you get to sit in a room with a whole bunch of other people and watch something happen right in front of you. And Zoom was so unpredictable. Is it going to freeze? Is there a glitch? How can we sing together?
But honestly, I’m kind of proud that we did it. A bunch of us are over 50 years old and learned how to do something brand new. We got ring lights and good microphones and figured out how to shift our iPhones to 4k technology so that we could get better footage and did different takes and uploaded them. Thanks to our wonderful editor who put together tight 45- to 60-minute shows, things came out pretty well. I think it’s really cool when you figure out ways to be creative in challenging times. But it’s not the same as live theater and we’re glad to be back.
What did you learn that you’re carrying forward?
Actors who make their living in theater always tried to just avoid the whole technology thing, but now it’s a part of our vocabulary. It makes more sense to us. It’s a new tool. At this moment, the biggest impact is in marketing our new show, as the actors are much more comfortable participating in social media, making videos for Facebook, etc., maybe having an actor answer three questions on video, or a group going out to the beach to film something about the show. We’re also going to have a virtual program, something electronic on their smartphones instead of on paper. But I don’t think we’re that far off from starting to meld the two where a live show can also be streamed virtually at the same time.
Skipping to the present, what was the impetus for writing Together: A Musical Journey?
Because of the pandemic restrictions at the time, PCPA wanted me to create something for only our seven resident actors. I was thrilled to get to write for actors who are not just my colleagues, but also my really good friends who have been working together for 10 years. What I came up with was three questions to find out what really matters in life for people, and I interviewed about 120 people from all different backgrounds and all over the map between Santa Barbara and Paso Robles. People who work in the fields and people who own the fields, and doctors and baristas, just wanting to pull perspectives from different social socio-economic backgrounds and cultures. We share some of the answers from the community, the actual responses, throughout the show, and we also answered the questions with songs. The dialogue in-between gives us reasons to sing, posing these questions that the songs can answer.
Can you share the questions here?
I would rather the audience be surprised, but the first one is the opening line and sets the foundation for the show. I asked, “What makes your heart sing?” And what people said was remarkably similar. It’s through shared stories that we find commonality. That became a real theme about overcoming differences and finding agreement, something we really need in these times. I read that when people are in a room sharing a live performance experience, their hearts start to beat in the same rhythm, they sync up. So that became what I wanted to write about: if our hearts can overcome chaos and find agreement, maybe our minds and the rest of us can, too.
I don’t mean to sound like a Hallmark card, but I do hope the audience celebrates how wonderful it is to actually share an experience together again. Be with our community, or re-build a community, maybe reach out and welcome new people into the community. That got taken away from us. Now that we have it back, it’s something I hope we really want to relish.
(PCPA opens Together: A Musical Journey at the Solvang Festival Theater on July 23. The original musical concert plays 8 pm Fridays & Saturday, plus one Sunday on August 1, through August 7. Call (805) 922-8313 or visit www.pcpa.org.)
Santa Ynez Sounding Off Again
Just a few miles down Rte. 246 from Solvang Festival Theater, Tales from the Tavern is back in action with a full six-show series at the Maverick Saloon. TFTT, the two-decades-old singer-songwriter series in Santa Ynez that survived the pandemic partially by putting out well-curated interactive video versions of previous performances and interviews that benefited both the series and the artists, turns the diehard country bar into an intimate music room for its concerts. The John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band (J2B2) kicks things off on Wednesday, July 28.
John Jorgenson (acoustic guitar, mandolin, and vocals), along with Herb Pedersen (banjo, acoustic guitar, and vocals), was a co-founder with Ojai resident Chris Hillman of the formative country-rock group Desert Rose Band; Jorgenson has also toured with Elton John’s band for six years and won a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental with now-Montecito resident Brad Paisley in 2008, while Pedersen was a member of legendary bluegrass band The Dillards as well as bluegrass super-group Old and In the Way. Rounding out the quartet, J2B2 bassist Mark Fain toured and recorded as bass player for Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder for 13 years and had similar roles with the Dixie Chicks, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, Dwight Yoakam, Allison Krauss, and Dolly Parton, while guitarist/vocalist Patrick Sauber has toured with Peter Rowan and Laurie Lewis.
Also coming to TFTT this season: Old favorites Steve Poltz, the wry and whimsical singer-songwriter who will play September 8; former Montecito resident Sarah Lee Guthrie, the granddaughter of folk legend Woody (“This Land is Your Land”) Guthrie on September 22; and Dave Stamey, who’d fit right into the Maverick’s regular schedule via his wont for turning experiences as a cowboy, mule packer, and dude wrangler into Country-Western songs (October 6). Two subsequent shows are still to be announced.
The Maverick Saloon is located at 3687 Sagunto Street in Santa Ynez, just off Hwy. 246. Tickets cost $36.16 per show, or $172 for the six-show series. Call (805) 697-6335 or visit https://talesfromthetavern.com.