Wednesday August 16th 2017
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Publisher and Editor - Judith Martin-Straw

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Romeo and Juliet (with a Happy Twist) Celebrates CC Centennial in Carlson Park

unnamedIt’s been 19 years since a group of folks banded together to entertain the community in Carlson Park with free plays performed in the summer heat. This year, they’re paying Culver City back for its support by presenting five original plays scripted to celebrate its Centennial.
“I thought Romeo and Juliet would reflect the heart of Screenland for the mainstage performance,” said CCPT board president Laura Boccaletti, “except I wanted a happy ending.” Enter playwright Nakiska Aschtiani, who volunteered to incorporate Shakespeare’s plot with a happy tweak and set it in the heyday of Screenland. She poured over City Historian Julia Lugo Cerra’s comprehensive book Culver City, California: The First Hundred Years as a reference.
“It’s set in 1917,” Boccaletti said. “A very clever love letter to Culver City.”
Playwrights for the Children’s Popcorn Theater had to include at least one character from the iconic Wizard of Oz story famously filmed in Culver City.

Some 100 fans gathered on the grass on the south side of popular Carlson Park to kick off the 2017 season with the Children’s Popcorn Theater. A cast of four presented four original plays, each with one or more characters from the Wizard of Oz, famously filmed here. They begin with an homage to silent movies, Scarecrow and the Salesman by Christopher Gough, skip to The Way to Oz by Daniel Loftman Hurewitz, than a Toto Too sketch by Jen Huszcza and end with Lost in Screenland by Morna Murphy Martell.
After a break, a new cast presented Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers tragedy crafted into a plot between rival studios Montague and Capulet battling to produce the next big film and actors scheming to be in it.
CCPT’s roots are in the 20th Century. From 1994 to 1998, a group called Theater in the Park produced annual summer plays in Carlson Park, said Eric Billitzer. When the first group folded, he was part of the group which took over, presenting Neil Simon’s Fools, Electra by Sophocles and The Fan by Carlo Goldoni as the Culver City Public Theater in 1999.

The summer fare doubled a decade ago to include the Children’s Popcorn Theater show at noon followed by the adult mainstage production at 2 p.m. he said. “A significant number of children stay for both shows,” Boccaletti added.
“They are the little theater company that could,” said community resident Regina Klein. “They keep going with all volunteers. It’s total commitment and the actors are really good.” Some 35 people from actors to stage managers and hands helped with the production this year, all volunteers from theater schools, experienced actors, production people and interns.
“I love that every year when we begin a new season, people come up to me in the concession and tell me how much they have looked forward to it, how their children look forward to the Popcorn series, how their child is now taking theater studies,” Boccaletti said. She joined the cast in 2006 as the Mad Woman of Chaillot. Funded by grants from Culver City, Los Angeles County and some crowdfunding, as well as donations cheerfully accepted by her at the concession stand, or solicited from the mailing list of a thousand supporters, CCPT pays for expenses, she said.
“We start preparing grant applications for the city and county right after the season ends in August,” she said. “In January and February we recruit directors while the group selects scripts. Casts are selected from auditions in May. Six weeks of rehearsals begin in June and the season runs July-August.
All a volunteer, non-profit, labor of love from an executive of five and membership of 16. Funded by grants from Culver City, Los Angeles County, Sony Entertainment and some crowdfunding, as well as donations cheerfully accepted by her at the concession stand, or solicited from the mailing list of a thousand supporters, CCPT pays for expenses, she said.
“Each year at the end of the season, we invite new cast members who have been really keen and involved to become members,” Boccaletti said. That’s how she joined in 2006. She lives in West Hollywood, but is the first one on set in the morning and last to leave at night. She shares her passion with Billitzer, who was in both the Oz quartet and the mainstage production. Theater is famous for its devotees, and small companies like CCPT survive on them.
“We start preparing grant applications for the city and county right after the season ends in August,” she said. “In January and February we recruit directors while the group selects scripts. Casts are selected from auditions in May. Six weeks of rehearsals begin in June and the season runs July-August.
Every Saturday and Sunday at noon and 2 p.m. in Carlson Park, at Motor and Braddock, through August 20. Please park on the park side of the streets.

Text and pics by T.S. Owen

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