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Act Two for Park 

Transcendence Theatre Co.'s Broadway sizzle helps keep Jack London State Park open

Page 2 of 2

"We targeted the Napa-Sonoma area as a strong possibility," Miller says, "because of its beauty, of course, and because of all the destination travel, which was an important part of our vision. Companies like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival thrive because they're planted in a community, but draw a lot of their audience from destination travel."

After setting their sights on Napa and Sonoma, the troupe—while still headquartered in L.A.—began looking for an outdoor spot to fit their needs.

"We didn't know anybody at first, so it was a real adventure," says Stubbins. "We knew we wanted to be here, but we had no idea how we were going to make it happen."

At the same time, California announced its intentions to close several state parks, including a number of them in Northern California. Inspired by an online podcast featuring a speech by Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks, calling for innovative ideas to keep the parks open, Miller, Stubbins and company decided that establishing a performance space at a threatened state park could be beneficial for everyone involved. That was Memorial Day weekend of 2011.

In true "let's put on a show" tradition, several members of the company jumped in a car, drove to Sonoma County and started visiting the area's state parks, beginning with Annadel.

click to enlarge arts-2.jpg

"It was crazy," laughs Stubbins. "We got out and found a ranger and said, 'We'd like to talk to you about the park closures, because we'd like to start a theater company in one of your parks.' And the rangers at Annadel told us we should go check out Jack London State Park. So we came out here and started walking around, and when we stepped into the ruins of the old winery, we all went, 'Wait a minute. This is it. I think we found our land.'"

Immediately, they began negotiations with the state, and were told that if they'd proposed the idea a week prior, they'd have been told no. But with the parks on the verge of closing, the concept of holding events that would channel money back to the parks had a whole new appeal.

To gauge if there was actually an audience for the kind of performance the troupe envisioned, Transcendence staged a one-night-only event at the park last October. The show drew 900 people, selling out every seat.

"We didn't know if we'd get a hundred people or what," Miller says. "We know a lot of the draw was the part about money being raised to save the park. People are connecting with that."

With good word-of-mouth and the continued support of the community, Stubbins and Miller believe that Transcendence will have a longtime home here in the North Bay.

"We really want to make our presence and our commitment to the community known," says Stubbins. "We are here, and we want to help build something wonderful."

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