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Rodger Hoopman: A life in theater

Rodger Hoopman teaches a stage makeup class at Sierra College Sept. 13. Seated is student and actress Ariel Elliot.
Submitted by Thor Tivol |

Grass Valley resident Rodger Hoopman has spent the last 40 years of his life dedicated to theatrical arts.

So it should come as no surprise that he won the Lifetime Achievement award at the Sacramento Area Regional Theatre Association Elly awards Sept. 22, along with Connie Mockenhaput of Sutter Street Theatre.

The first acting role Hoopman performed was in a melodrama church play at the age of 15, he said.



“I knew immediately that was something I wanted to do,” he said. “From the time I was 15 on, I had a focus. I didn’t know how I was going to go about it and make a living of it, but I knew that was something I did well, and I got a great deal of satisfaction out of it.”

He moved to Sacramento at the age of 16 and formed the Chautauqua Players in 1975, named after the traveling Chautauqua shows that toured the county in tents during the early part of the 20th century.




In 1976, there were only two theater companies in Sacramento, Hoopman said, and he and other actors sought additional opportunities.

In the fall of 1975, the Chautauqua Players produced its first show, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” in the Old Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento, and later produced a Sherlock Holmes drama that led to a partnership with Gene Morrow and Eric Ericson and the pursuit of their own performing space.

The original 65-seat Chautauqua Playhouse opened at 25th and R Streets in downtown Sacramento in April 1976. During the next several years, Morrow and Ericson left the partnership, and new partner Charles Slater helped expand the playhouse to 135 seats and a larger stage in 1980.

The theatre was destroyed by an arson attack in October of 1983, and in 1985,with Hoopman as producer and Bill Rogers as general manager, Chautauqua Playhouse moved to 5325 Engle Road in the La Sierra Community Center in Carmichael, where live shows are still produced.

Rogers left in 2004 to move to South Carolina and Hoopman assumed the position of producer/artistic director. After years of involvement as an actor and director, Warren Harrison joined the organization as co-producer in January of 2007.

Hoopman moved to Grass Valley in 1995 after performing in Nevada County during the late 1960s with what was previously the Foothill Theatre Company.

He became involved with the theater community in Nevada County, including Quest Theaterworks, Legacy Productions and the Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra.

“I started looking to incorporate what was being done (in Nevada County) and see if there was a way to do some cooperative ventures,” Hoopman said. “I consider theater people wonderful people to be around, and I really wanted to be a part of that ensemble of people working together.”

Hoopman received a bachelor’s degree in theater from California State University, Sacramento, where he also completed most of the units required for a master’s, he said. He has performed about 30 shows as an equity actor and also became a member of the Screen Actors Guild. He also performed character roles with Sacramento Music Circus.

Hoopman also received his teaching credential and taught at Sacramento City College for 30 years, retiring three years ago. This semester, he teaches stage makeup and an acting class at Sierra College, also filling in at times as the introductory theater professor.

“My living is made from running my own theater company, any equity and SAG work, and from teaching, so I’ve been able to make a living doing this for 40 years,” he said. “I’m very fortunate, and I love everything I do.”

Hoopman has played many roles and worn many hats, from acting and directing more than 80 shows in 15 years and teaching, but said acting has always been his biggest passion.

He recently performed in Quest Theaterworks’ “Squabbles,” which he later brought to Chautauqua Playhouse.

“For me, it’s doing what I love to do and finding as many opportunities as I can to do it,” he said.

Hoopman opened a new show titled “Camping with Henry and Tom,” and in about a month he starts rehearsal for original musical “Scrooge,” a version of the Charles Dickens’ classic “The Christmas Carol.” Hoopman wrote the lyrics and music with the collaboration of friend and composer Rob Knable. He also stars in the production.

The duo also wrote other musicals together, including one based on American newspaperman and author Damon Runyon.

“I like to have my fingers in a lot of pies. I like to do a lot of different things,” Hoopman said. “The Lifetime Achievement award was as much for just being able to hang in there through tough times. It’s kind of a dicey business financially, and we’ve been able to keep going.”

The television scene was also something Hoopman dabbled in back in the 1980s, where he was an actor in a short-lived cop drama/mystery series.

“I was going to be a recurring character, and of course, when it got canceled, that ended,” he said, adding that live theater was more his style anyway. “The stage stuff has always been my first love. I always love being around actors and the live audience.”

Last year, Hoopman was nominated for supporting actor with Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra. He also won Best Actor in a Comedy for “I Hate Hamlet.”

“This year was kind of a surprise because they don’t nominate you, they just tell you to be there,” he said.

Hoopman said his optimism and passion have kept him going all these years, as well as the seemingly constant flow of projects with which he is involved.

“I try to never get in a rut and do everything with passion and do the best possible job I can, whether it’s acting or building a set,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going.”

Hoopman said he is grateful for his supportive family and wife, Vicki Fortini, whom he met on the set of “Camelot” in 1990.

“I was Arthur and she was Guinevere,” Hoopman said. “We were married at the Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley and the Miner’s Foundry.”

The couple have two sons, one who goes by Buzz and works in security. Edward Hoopman followed his parent’s footsteps and moved to New York, even after deciding to go into NASA, receiving multiple scholarships and being accepted by the University of Michigan and University of Colorado, Boulder.

“He said ‘I can’t do this, so I’m going to go back to acting,’” Hoopman said, adding he had performed with him in shows growing up. “He’s an aerospace scientist who’s now an actor, and I had to back him.”

“I realize the importance of loving what you do, and it’s pretty easy when you look at your own life,” Hoopman said. “I made certain choices that haven’t made me rich, but I’m happy with what I do and that’s important.”

For more information, visit http://www.cplayhouse.org or contact 916-489-7529.

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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