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Friends of the Theater Plans Gala Fundraiser

The event will be held on Saturday, Aug. 13, and includes a silent auction, musical-themed dinner and a special show from San Leandro students and alums.

The first time I saw a San Leandro school musical was years ago when my children were young and a friend of mine invited me to where her son was in The Music Man.

No newbie to theater (my mother is a professional actress), I was expecting to politely sit through a “good effort.” Instead I was treated to one of the most professional productions I’d seen in a long time. And I haven’t missed one since.

The genius behind these productions is Catherine Heck. After 36 years as a teacher with San Leandro schools, she is retired. But, lucky for us, she has not retired her role directing musical drama at Bancroft.

Children adore her, adults flock to support her endeavors, and now we have a brand-new theater — in the at — to showcase her amazing productions.

Twelve years ago, a San Leandro parent and teacher, Jeni Engler, was so inspired by Catherine that she took on the challenge of successfully resurrecting musical theater at the high school. This spring, both the middle and high school programs enjoyed their first shows in our fabulous new facility.

In a letter to her alumni performers, Catherine described the new Arts Education Center as a “stunning structure housing a state-of the art, 550-seat theater complete with orchestra pit, sound and light booth, rigging for flying scenery, and art gallery display space in the lobby. To see this structure is to love it….”

Both Jeni and Catherine are quick to point out how grateful they are to our community for showing their appreciation of arts education by passing the bond that made building this center possible. 

To protect this investment, Jeni helped form and is president of , an organization dedicated to maintaining and growing the theater portion of the new center. The first duty of this newly formed nonprofit was to find and fund a theater facilities supervisor.

Friends is proud to announce the hiring of Dustin Brown.

Dustin, a graduate of UC Berkeley with a theater degree, is skilled in all aspects of “behind-the-scenes” theater work. An Equity stage manager, production manager and stage electrician, he has worked with companies such as Aurora Theatre Company, Solano College Theatre and Alter Theater. 

Dustin has taught courses in technical theater and stage lighting at Solano Community College and received the Eric Landisman Fellowship in 2010. This summer he is joined by theater intern and San Leandro High School graduate Gabrielle Koizumi.

Dustin and his intern are working hard to make sure all the intricacies of running a theater are ready and available for school and community use.

The next job for Friends is to establish an ongoing donor base to support this effort. It’s no surprise that Catherine Heck stepped on board to help create what promises to be a grandiose gala celebrating this extraordinary triumph for the arts in San Leandro schools. This fundraiser, in her words will be “A REALLY BIG PARTY!!!!!!”

The elegant affair commences Saturday, Aug. 13, at 5 p.m. with a no-host bar and silent auction. Then at 6 p.m., enjoy a dinner that is literally a musical feast, featuring Asian delicacies from South Pacific, Madam Butterfly and Miss Saigon; American summer favorites from State Fair and Oaklahoma!; and Mediterranean tidbits from Zorba the Greek and Mama Mia.

After enjoying all this glamour in the beautiful new , you are invited to make your way over to the new theater where Catherine will once again work her magic.

The curtain goes up on Showcase San Leandro at 8 p.m. Catherine has gathered together San Leandro students and her beloved alums in what promises to be a knockout show of artistic talent. Special guests include the Johnson Brothers and their now famous “swazzle” puppets. Check them out at www.swazzle.com

Working hard to help Catherine are Mark Morash of the San Francisco Opera and choreographer Dallis Wright-Morash.

Tickets to this spectacular event are $50.

If you can’t make the gala party, you can still treat yourself to the performance.

Tickets will be available for the show only for $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.

Tickets for the gala or the show only can be reserved by contacting Jeni at 510-352-8473 or via email at jeniengler@sbcglobal.net. You can also purchase tickets at the box office on the evening of the Showcase.

In the wise words of Bugs Bunny:

Overture, curtains, lights, this is it, the night of nights
No more rehearsing and nursing a part,
We know every part by heart!
Overture, curtains, lights, this is it, you'll hit the heights

And oh what heights we'll hit
On with the show this is it!

So curtain up — light the lights and let’s ensure this gala hits the heights!

Do you have a story you'd like to contribute to Patch? Send a note to the editor: jillr@patch.com.

Leah Hall July 25, 2011 at 03:12 PM
I hope everyone can come! Virtually an incalculable value for the ticket price, it promises to be a wonderful evening and very supportive of our performing arts education program in San Leandro. Please, if you are unable to make it, consider sponsoring an educator or alumnus by donating a ticket for this purpose. -- Tickets for the gala or the show only can be reserved by contacting Jeni at 510-352-8473 or via email at jeinengler@sbcglobal.net. You can also purchase tickets at the box office on the evening of the Showcase.
Jill Replogle July 25, 2011 at 06:14 PM
CORRECTION: Jeni's email is jeniengler@sbcglobal.net for tickets and more information.

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