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Sonoma has so many treasures...


in the Arts that it even has an Culture and Fine Arts Commission who every year select and celebrate a “Treasure Artist”…someone who has made an impact on the culture of Sonoma. This year the honor goes to Betty Ann Bruno for her years of bringing the culture of Hula to Sonoma through her founding of Sonoma’s Hula Mai Polynesian dance troupe. As Kate Williams wrote in the Index –Tribune “the commission also noted Bruno’s service to the community, with free Hula Mai shows on the Plaza, sponsorship of visiting hula artists, and monthly performances at local hospitals and care facilities core to her mission.”

While I celebrate Betty Ann, I use this as an example of the varied culture that so many bring to our Valley…music, dance, art, authors, speakers, film, theater and more. My first blog details all that we have, as does every issue of Savvy Sonoma Valley.

We are so fortunate to have so many live events here. I am fortunate to be involved with Sonoma Arts Live, our local theater company. Sonoma Arts Live (SAL) is the fulfillment of a long effort by its founder and Executive Artistic Director Jaime Love.

SAL evolved out of an alliance of several theater groups called the Sonoma Theater Alliance.

In 1999 Jaime and Todd Evans had the dream of having regular live theatrical productions in a dedicated theater space. At the time there were several groups presenting live theater productions wherever they could find space. Silver Moon, M & G, ETC!, Caps Productions, and Sonoma Stage Works, were all dedicated to bringing live stage productions to Sonoma. They all became the eventual members of the Sonoma Theater Alliance

I remember Jaime making a presentation to The Rotary Club of Sonoma Valley about the Alliance and the trials and tribulations of putting on live productions complicated by the need for a permanent home for the productions. I was so taken by their efforts that I asked her if we could all meet to discuss how to solve the problem. At the time there seemed to be some opportunities for space that seemed very attractive. One was Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center. It seemed the logical choice…good bones and a great location.

Sure, there was some conflict as a permanent theater in Andrews Hall would eliminate some of the other uses of the hall, but eventually all parties agreed that this would be a great use of this historic hall in the historic Sonoma Community Center Building.

The first need was seating. The Theater Alliance launched the TAKE YOUR SEATS project and were able to raise $35,000 to purchase 80 seats and the risers that are still in place in Andrews Hall.

In 2012 Jaime with a little help successfully convinced Rotary that theater and renovations of Andrews Hall should be it’s 2013 project. Then Rotary president Vicki Whiting led the way, and Rotary committed $100,000 as a challenge grant for capital improvements to make Andrews Hall into a real theater. The Sonoma Community Center was all in for this project. Then executive director Cathy Swett got redevelopment funds, donors came forward and Jack Lundgren spearheaded the renovation.

In the Spring of 2013 the theater now called “The Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall at the Sonoma Community Center” opened with a gilded proscenium arch, microphones, acoustic panels, air conditioning, and comfortable seats. Wow a real theater in Sonoma! Now what?

In 2014 after a couple of seasons in the theater, it became apparent to the board of the Theater Alliance that they would have a lot more traction and identity if they were an actual theater company. With the help of James and Jennifer Wood, Jaime was able to do just that…and so began Sonoma Arts Live.

Sonoma Arts Live is an independent non-profit theater company. Jaime Love is the Executive Artistic Director and as such had the sole responsibility for the shows that are presented on the Rotary Stage as well as the personnel involved in the productions. There is a board of directors headed by Sue Martin as president who works with Jaime on all the other aspects of the company.

In recent years Sonoma Arts Live productions have received numerous nominations from The San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Association, and awards from The Marquee Theater Journalists and Theater Bay Area.

The dream has been realized: The Theater exists and Sonoma Arts Live is drawing rave reviews and enthusiastic audiences. Sonoma is indeed lucky to have Sonoma Arts Live and Jaime Love.

Future Sonoma Treasure Artist? I think so.

Thanks for reading and thanks for using Savvy Sonoma Valley to find all the Sonoma Valley events, Sonoma Valley Live Music, Sonoma Valley Art, Sonoma Valley Live Theater and On Stage performances, Sonoma Valley Parks and Outdoor Activities.

Rick Wynne

Founder, Savvy Sonoma Valley on www.SavvySonomaValley.com

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