Other Voices: Nevada County stands to lose world-class theater | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Nevada County stands to lose world-class theater

Since 2000, I have painted and recently designed sets for the Foothill Theatre Company. Technically, I’m not staff, yet I am intermittently full time: Fully employed before each show, but not between.

Our other affiliate artists work occasionally – once, maybe twice a year as designers, actors or directors. Everyone else on staff: Another story. I’ve never had the privilege to work with a more talented, over-the-top dedicated, hard-working and underpaid group of people, most of whom wear more than one hat, sometimes three or more.

For most of us it is more than just a job, or we wouldn’t be here. (In the hectic days before a new show opens, we do make our jokes: “Because it’s the theatah, dalink!” or “I’m changing my major”). So, I speak for myself, not as a representative of Foothill, though I’m deeply affected by the circumstances.

It was with heavy hearts that the decision was made to go public with the very real crisis of our money woes.

Things had been worrisome all season, but not being in the office much, I didn’t know how bad things were. I was aware that draconian cutbacks had been made, and some staff are moonlighting just to make ends meet.

While I don’t know particular numbers, I know salaries are minimal and any benefits disappeared long ago. We are down to a skeletal artistic and office staff. Bloated salaries, waste? I think not – more like malnourished.

I should also note that while Foothill has had its go ’rounds with personnel (in large part due to an inability to offer high enough wages to attract and keep good people), we currently have a remarkably cohesive and competent team, in artistic staff, office staff and board members. And, it really knows how to put on a show.

Talent lies not only in the acting of the plays, but also in choosing material, directors, designers, cast and crews. There is a fine balance in combining great local talent with others from the larger world. There is the strong vision that informs all decisions to create the very best professional theater by any standard.

Even plagued by constant lack of adequate funds and, often, production challenges of one sort or another, I am proud to say that Foothill largely succeeds. The caliber of the performances is truly world-class and reviews garnered bear this out.

All my life, I have made my living as an artist and count myself lucky to have landed here 18 years ago to discover such a rich (in the sense of heart and soul) artistic community.

There are many, many fine artists of all disciplines here, and while often appreciated by a community that benefits greatly by the cumulative effect of living in such a hotbed of creativity, it is, sadly, at times taken for granted.

Unfortunately, we are bombarded constantly these days with the message that the slick, throwaway pop culture of celebrities, canned music, movies and advertising images is what defines us, and that “valuable” is synonymous with “viable.”

However, a culture is defined by its art. I like a good movie as well as the next person, but what about art we make ourselves? We are called “consumers,” as if we are only capable of eating and adding to the waste stream. Perhaps I am showing my age, but when I was growing up we were called “citizens,” capable of discourse and contribution to our society.

It is so easy in this climate to be flippant about what may or not please us by making snap judgments about whether or not something should be allowed to exist.

When we talk about a struggling theater company with a small group of people who may lose their jobs, we are also talking about the loss to the community at large, not only in the ripple effect on the local economy, but also in the richness of our local culture, which extends our reputation beyond our county.

When we deny the importance of the arts, we cripple and impoverish ourselves. So, is it to be no longer a boast of world-class theater right here in our small town?

No more cross-exchange with talent that comes to stay during the run of a show?

No more educational outreach for aspiring young actors or audiences from our schools?

No more major support for our historic Nevada Theatre?

No more opening nights?

As Shakespeare said: “The play’s the thing.”

I, for one, would mourn the loss.

Pamela Mengers Hodges is an illustrator, set designer and scenic artist. She is artistic manager for KVMR Celtic Festival and an affiliate artist with Foothill Theatre Company. She lives in Chicago Park.

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