CVIndependent

Tue07142020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Ron Celona looked weary as patrons entered the CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City for the Saturday, March 14, matinee performance of The City of Conversation.

This was supposed to be a bustling, packed weekend of theater in the Coachella Valley. At least four theaters were opening new productions, while two more companies continued successful shows.

But as of that Saturday afternoon, The City of Conversation was the only show still open. Before we entered the theater—not even one-third full—Celona confided that after the Sunday show, CVRep, too, would be going dark.

Barring a miracle, we were watching the last play to be performed in the Coachella Valley by our fantastic theater companies in quite some time.

The production of The City of Conversation was a fantastic. Thanks to a great cast, led by Martha Hackett as old-school liberal activist/socialite Hester Ferris, the play showed how political differences can rip a family apart. It was compelling and riveting—so much so that it managed to make at least some theater-goers temporarily forget the unprecedented weirdness going on outside.

That is, until one of the characters made a joke about an expired toilet-paper coupon.

Celona’s angst over whether or not to let the show go on encapsulates the dilemma our valley’s producers faced heading into the weekend: On one hand, out of an abundance of caution, they could do societal good by closing the theater doors and having people staying home. On the other, they could take precautions and let the amazing, expensive work they’d rehearsed, built sets for and toiled over for weeks and months be seen and enjoyed by people who badly needed a distraction from the outside world.

As of Thursday, March 12, when the Independent started reaching out to local theater professionals, all six shows were slated to go on as scheduled—with the aforementioned precautions.

“We are offering hand sanitizer to people who have bought tickets,” said Chuck Yates, whose Coyote StageWorks was set to open The Velocity of Autumn the next night in the company’s new home at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. “For those who haven’t bought tickets yet, we don’t know if they will come.

“It’s a huge financial impact. Theater is never easy, and this is particularly hard. … There are a lot of people who don’t know what to do. All of the small theaters here, like us—nobody is in a financial situation to handle this, so we are opening The Velocity of Autumn. … It’s got heart; it’s funny; it’s beautifully written. It’s perfect for our community.”

The play—about an 80-year-old artist who’s barricaded herself in her Brooklyn brownstone with Molotov cocktails (!) to keep her family from removing her—would have been a lovely distraction for people who needed it. But these are unprecedented times.

Yates called back later in the day on Thursday to let us know he’d changed his mind.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” he said. “But we will try to figure out alternative dates. Right now, we’re biding time, waiting to see what the news brings. Maybe we can do it in a few weeks or months, or maybe next season.”

Robbie Wayne, the producing artistic director at the LGBT-themed Desert Rose Playhouse, told us on Thursday he intended to continue the run of Beautiful Thing, which had opened to rave reviews the weekend before.

“You’re not given a class on how to do this. Nobody knows how to handle this, so we are learning as we go,” he said. “I’m trying to be as informed as possible about this—everyone’s trying to figure it out. We haven’t had a large number of refund requests, but we are trying to figure out how to do this—it’s a dilemma. We don’t want it to be about the money, but that has to be taken into consideration for the venue. As of right now, we are removing snacks; we offer hand sanitizers; we are scrubbing the place down; and we are telling people stay home if you don’t feel well. But we also want to keep some normalcy in our lives.

“We want to be responsible for helping to curb this outbreak … It’s a hard place to be in. I have the TV on all the time. I go with whatever my gut tells me at the end of the day, because 24 hours can change everything. It is minute by minute now, because there is so much to consider.”

Wayne’s words were spot-on: The next day, he made the decision to suspend the weekend’s shows.

“We have staff members and patrons with compromised immune systems, so I went with my conscience. There are no winners in a situation like this, unfortunately,” Wayne said.

Over at Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, the same dilemma played out: After announcing on Wednesday that the “curtain will go up!” on the weekend’s opening of—yes, really—How to Survive an Apocalypse, the next day, executive director Shawn Abramowitz and artistic director Jerome Elliott announced the show would not go on, at least for opening weekend.

“We are so proud of our team for their magnificent work on this play,” they said. “This was a hard decision, but we feel it is the right call during this unsettled and confusing time.

That meant that as of Friday night, three of the six shows were still open: Palm Canyon Theatre’s The Pajama Game, and the opening night for Desert Theatreworks’ The Producers went on as scheduled, along with CVRep’s The City of Conversation.

“We have scrubbed the theater down,” Celona said on Thursday, March 12. “We have a cleaning crew coming in after every performance. We have purchased professional wall-mounted sanitizing dispensers for the lobby and the theater area. Our theater is 208 seats, so we are less than the 250-seat gatherings that are being cancelled, and we are about 50 to 60 percent of capacity. The bottom line is, when our accountants say we have to close, we close, and when the county of Riverside says we have to close, we close.”

The morning after those Friday-night shows, both Palm Canyon Theatre and Desert Theatreworks announced they would go dark. CVRep followed two days later.

“I hope if someone has a ticket to a live theater event, and the show is closed due to the virus, that they would consider donating the money to the theater instead of asking for a refund,” Coyote StageWorks’ Yates said. “This is the kind of thing that kills arts organizations.”

Published in Theater and Dance

Last night, I met friends for drinks at a bar on Arenas Road, in downtown Palm Springs. I haven’t been out much this week, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

As we drove down Arenas, unsuccessfully looking for a spot, I was surprised to see that most of the bars appeared to be packed.

“I don’t know if I have ever had more mixed feelings about something in my life,” I told my husband.

On one hand … I was elated to see that all of these small, locally owned businesses were getting much-needed business. It was good to see the servers and bartenders making good money. I was proud to be part of that needed cash infusion.

On the other hand … I kept thinking: Should all of us be out and about like this?

After drinks, we wandered down Palm Canyon Drive and got dinner at a local restaurant. While the street wasn’t dead, it certainly was getting quieter as the night went on.

Again, mixed feelings.

After I hit send on this Daily Digest, I am going to get ready to head to CVRep in Cathedral City, to do a review of The City of Conversation—the only play currently running in the valley that has not yet been shuttered by the pandemic. (More on this below.) Then I am going to meet friends at a charity art event, and go to dinner at Lulu. I am going to savor it like it’s the last good night on the town I have for a while … because it might very well be.

I hope it’s not. But it might very well be.

Here’s today’s news.

• The Desert AIDS Project just announced something huge: It’s opening a COVID-19 triage clinic.

This just arrived in my inbox, from CEO David Brinkman:

“In the next 48 hours DAP will take a bold step and we ask you to please have our backs. Last week, we opened our new clinics for DAP’s day-to-day healthcare operations, leaving our original clinic temporarily vacant. Today, I worked with our infectious disease doctors to develop an emergency plan of action to ensure the health and well-being of all we serve. The original clinic will be transformed this weekend into a specialized COVID-19 triage clinic. This will allow our medical experts to screen patients demonstrating symptoms in a quarantined space, while also allowing our non-symptomatic patients to continue having their health needs met without potential exposure.

“This is no small undertaking. Desert AIDS Project is the healthcare home to 7,000 of our friends and neighbors, most of whom live at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or below. And, the majority of our patients are of an age with significantly increased risk. We already are seeing a dramatic increase in inquiries and we must be able to meet the need as it grows in the coming weeks.

“This new clinic will cost DAP $575,000 to operate over the coming months.”

Wow.

See the full announcement—and make a donation while there, if you can—here.

• As for those plays: Yesterday, we reported that Desert TheatreWorks, Palm Canyon Theatre and CVRep were moving forward with their productions. This morning, however, Desert TheatreWorks announced last night’s production of The Producers would be its last until April 10, while Palm Canyon Theatre announced it was cancelling the final two planned performances this weekend of The Pajama Game. As of now, PCT plans on proceeding with the rest of its season—Sordid Lives is slated to open Thursday, March 26—but noted that this is a “very fluid situation.” This makes CVRep the last theater company standing: As of this writing, The City of Conversation will continue at least through this weekend.

Read more about all of this tomorrow in the second Installment of the Independent’s Pandemic Stories series. Yeah, I said yesterday that story would be available today … and then things changed. It’ll be worth the wait, I promise.

• All schools in Riverside County are closed for the next three weeks, per county Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser. More info here.

• Good news: During the closure, kids in need within the Palm Springs Unified School District can still get free meals. School buses will be delivering them on normal morning routes, or they can be picked up at schools. Get the details hereDesert Sands and Coachella Valley Unified are also making meals available to kids at schools.

• The United Way of the Desert has launched a very good information page, chock full of resources and phone numbers people may need during this crisis. View it here

• This is amazingly cool: Yesterday, we reported that the Certified Farmers’ Markets had been suspended for the time being. Today, the organizers have started posting direct contact info for the various vendors (with their blessing) on the Certified Farmers’ Market Facebook page, so people can directly contact and buy from the vendors if they so choose. Get all the 411 here.

• The Palm Springs Art Museum has decided to close for the time being. More info here.

That’s all for now. Please, support local businesses. Be a good neighbor. Stop hoarding crap. Be smart and diligent and caring. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Welcome to the first-ever Coachella Valley Independent Daily Digest. The goal for this Daily Digest is to round up reliable, vetted news related to COVID-19 and the accompanying societal changes. There’s too much unreliable information floating around on social media (and even coming out of some elected officials’ mouths)—and in this space, we'll sort through it all to get to truthfulness and sanity.

In addition to news updates, we’ll also highlight good things happening—specials from local businesses (that REALLY need your support right now), enlightening comments from members of the community, and so on. Please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have anything you think should be included.

And with that ... here's the news.

• As we were getting close to clicking send on this, the Palm Springs Unified School District announced it would be closing schools the next two weeks. They're moving up Spring Break, essentially. Parents are receiving this message right now: "Hello PSUSD families. This is Supt. Sandy Lyon. I wanted to provide you with an update on the coronavirus situation as it relates to our District. You may be aware that over the past day, there has been an increase in the number of confirmed cases here in the Coachella Valley, and there are a number of tests pending that could result in several other confirmed cases. Additionally, both the Riverside County Department of Health and Governor Newsom issued a directive to suspend gatherings of over 250 people. As a result, Palm Springs Unified School District is moving its two-week spring break. It will begin on Monday, March 16."

• Eisenhower Medical Center announced earlier today that visitors will no longer be allowed at EMC for the time being. More on what EMC is doing to protect the community can be found here.

• As of this writing, local theaters have made a split decision on whether to stay open or not. While Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, Coyote StageWorks and the Desert Rose Playhouse have cancelled or postponed shows this weekend, Palm Canyon Theatre, CVRep and Desert TheatreWorks are letting the shows go on. Read more about this in the second installment in the Independent's Pandemic Stories series tomorrow (Saturday).

As for that first Pandemic Stories installment: Kevin Fitzgerald talked to the owner of Piero's PizzaVino about the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tourney, and how that devastated her and her staff. Piero's is one of the few local restaurants to have a pop-up location at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, alongside big names like Nobu and Spago.

• As for closures and cancellations: The Palm Springs Gay Softball league has suspended practices and play through March, and the national NAGAAA Cup tourney the league was hosting at the end of March is cancelled. Other recent cancellations/closures include the Palm Desert Food and Wine fest, all Certified Farmers Markets through at least March 30 (though the Palm Springs Cultural Center remains open for now), the Palm Springs Library (though the Palm Desert Library remains open), and shockingly, The Abbey down in West Hollywood.

• From our partners at CalMatters: As the coronavirus toll rises, so do concerns about health-care workers' safety.

• Earlier today, President Trump declared a national emergency. The press conference was ... well, fascinating. At one point, after Trump said he didn't take any responsibility for the pandemic, a reporter from PBS asked him about his firing of the national pandemic response team. His response was that he didn't do it, and that this was a "nasty question." As for that firing, Snopes says it's true that it happened.

• Support local businesses! If you're comfortable with going out (while taking all the precautions that you should be), local bars and restaurants need you right now. If not, order food from a local restaurant on GrubHub or one of the apps!

• Alternately, consider buying gift cards from local businesses. Some places are offering 20 percent bonuses.

• If you found this email helpful, forward to a friend, or have them email us and we'll add them to the list. Please consider supporting the Independent, too ... we could use it!

Until tomorrow ... stay safe; support local business, and wash your hands!

Published in Daily Digest

The play Real Women Have Curves examines the Latina immigrant experience in the United States, and Indio’s Desert Theatreworks is taking on the play—which debuted in 1990 and was later made into a critically acclaimed movie—as its first-ever bilingual production.

Leslye Martinez, the assistant director of Real Women Have Curves, said during a recent phone interview that she pitched the play to Desert Theatreworks artistic director Lance Phillips-Martinez.

“I said, ‘Hey, it would be really cool if we could do this play; I think we have the people for it here in the community, and I think we have some amazing Latina women in this theater who could represent these women,’” Martinez said. “A week later, he came up to me and said, ‘Hey, so guess what the last show of this season is?’ He told me we were doing Real Women Have Curves.

“It was a really great moment for me, because I feel like it’s the first time Latina women are being represented on this stage in this theater company. It’s a huge reflection of our community as a whole for the people who come to watch our productions. I am a Mexican woman, so I felt it was something we needed here.”

Martinez’s passion for the play, written by Josefina López, was palpable as she spoke.

“I first read this play when I was in college,” Martinez said. “I was involved in the Latina/o Play Project at the University of California, Riverside, and I personally love it, because it represents all kinds of women, and it has feminism and community as themes—and they have their bickering moments where they get a little competitive. It’s very typical for women to be this way around each other, but I feel that there’s so much truth within this play in terms of political things going on. There’s the whole green-card situation that happens, which is very reflective of how I grew up.

“I feel very attached to this production, because I immigrated here when I was 5 years old. It holds a lot of significant meaning to me and in my life.”

Martinez said the show will be easy to follow, even for those who don’t speak both English and Spanish.

“We’re having the ladies here say everything that we’re saying in Spanish (also) in English,” she said. “They are also acting it out in a way that’s more understanding in an audience perspective. If we’re referring to something on our bodies, we accentuate that part of our body. We’ll make sure that whoever is viewing this production really understands what’s going on.”

Selene Canchola is playing the role of Estela Garcia. She said she was immediately interested after seeing a post Martinez put up about the play.

“I’ve always been a plus-sized lady, so when I read the title, I was immediately drawn to it,” Canchola said. “So far, it’s been kind of hectic because of the scheduling, but it’s been a wonderful opportunity, and I consider myself lucky to play Estela Garcia in this production.”

There are some scenes that involve revealing clothing and semi-nudity—and Canchola said those scenes don’t bother her at all.

“I’ve worked really hard to get to the body type I have now,” Canchola said with a laugh. “I used to be 100 pounds heavier than my current size. I’m all about body positivity and owning the skin you’re in. You only have one body.

“There’s a scene that’s heartwarming for me, because when I was in junior high school and high school, being in the locker room and being a bigger girl was so uncomfortable, seeing these skinny peers of mine getting ready for physical-education class. In this situation, the women in the play reflect that it’s OK to have cellulite; it’s OK to have stretch marks; and it’s OK to have scars. That’s what makes us beautiful and makes the audience feel vulnerable with us in that moment.”

After moving from the Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center in Palm Desert to the Indio Performing Arts Center in 2017, Desert Theatreworks has tried to take on a more diverse range of productions—and Martinez said she hopes Real Women Have Curves is a sign that even more diverse shows are on the way.

“I think this production is a great start,” Martinez said. “Hopefully this is the catalyst for a very diverse season.”

Real Women Have Curves will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 10, through Sunday, May 19, at the Indio Performing Arts Center in Indio, 45175 Fargo St. Tickets are $16 to $28. For tickets or more information, call 760-980-1455, or visit www.dtworks.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Michael Shaw, the artistic director and co-founder of Dezart Performs, had no idea what he was getting himself into when he helped start the theater company back in 2008.

“I was living in Los Angeles, so I was running the theater with my co-founder at the time,” Shaw said. “I went back and forth … and was still holding down my job in Los Angeles. I realized for it to grow, I needed to be here full-time. I needed to be entrenched in the community, because in order to be successful, you need to be in the community and get support for a nonprofit.

“I thought going into it that it was an avenue to explore new scripts. I really went into this thinking, ‘No stress; it’ll be fun. It’ll be an outlet to explore my creative side as an actor’—and the first four years, it was exactly that. But when you decide to take it to the next level, there are responsibilities that come with that. Things mushroomed and grew.”

Things mushroomed and grew so much, in fact, that Dezart Performs is outgrowing its home, the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club. That’s why Shaw recently announced Dezart was embarking on a campaign to raise money for a new and bigger theater to call home.

Dezart Performs is not alone. Coachella Valley Repertory announced last year it had agreed to purchase the Desert Cinemas movie theater building in Cathedral City and turn it into the company’s new home, after outgrowing spaces in The Atrium shopping center in Rancho Mirage. Meanwhile, Desert Theatreworks outgrew its space at the Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center in Palm Desert and just moved into a new space at the Indio Performing Arts Center.

Yep: Local theater companies are on the move.


Michael Shaw (far left) and the company of Dezart Performs' Casa Valentina watch as makeup artist James Geier demonstrates makeup techniques on actor Dale Morris. COURTESY OF CLARK DUGGERWhen Shaw (pictured here, at the far left) and co-founder Daniela Ryan began Dezart Performs, the company placed an emphasis on finding and developing brand-new plays. However, in recent years, Dezart Performs has shifted its focus away from new plays, and toward edgier fare. For example, the 2016-2017 season included Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, a play based on a real-life haven for transvestites in the 1960s, and Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, a play that tackles issues of race, housing and gentrification.

“Our season has an obligation to deliver socially relevant and provocative story lines. We’ve always tried to do that—and our audiences didn’t expect that in our little town a few years ago,” Shaw said. “They say, ‘I really love A Chorus Line,’ and didn’t expect to see Clybourne Park, which not only uses the F-word quite often, but also uses the C-word. When I read the script, I thought, ‘Oh my God! They’re going to pull out pitchforks and torches!’ (But audiences) loved the fact they were challenged and, in the context of the storyline, felt (such language) was necessary. The audience is there with you. That’s exciting. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have done Clybourne Park, and wouldn’t have expected that.”

Shaw said he’s enjoyed watching the Coachella Valley theater world grow and prosper.

“All of the theater directors are friends,” he said. “We all communicate; we all get together and see each other’s shows; and we all support each other. We make an effort to support each other, because we need more than one theater. You can’t have just one hamburger joint or one grocery store. We all have that same belief in supporting theater in the community.”

Dezart’s fundraising campaign for a new facility is in its initial stages, Shaw said.

“What we’re doing is announcing the pledge drive and setting in motion the path to achieve all of the things we need to for us to say, ‘We have now secured a facility, and we’re now in renovation,’” he said. But we’re a few years off from that. We’re establishing a position for a director of development, fundraising, and consulting to put us in a place where we, as an organization, can solidify the foundation and the people we need to make it happen. It means bringing on more staff, funding that staff, and taking a number of things off my plate so I can continue to grow in my role as the artistic director. I wear many hats, but I’m also only one person. Even with the support of volunteers, we need to start thinking ahead and ask, ‘What do we need to do to allow us to grow our programming?’”


CV Rep's Ron Celona and Gary D. Hall (left) sign the option agreement to purchase the former IMAX theater in Cathedral City with city officials Joe Giarrusso and Tami Scott (right).The Coachella Valley Repertory, currently based at The Atrium in Rancho Mirage, was also founded in 2008. It’s the only company in the valley that has Small Professional Theatre status with the Actors’ Equity union.

Founder and artistic director Ron Celona said the theater has grown well beyond what was originally planned.

“We were 2 years old, using outside venues, before we were able to rent our own space,” Celona said. “Our first big milestone was moving into (a space in) The Atrium in Rancho Mirage, which was an empty shell. We hired a contractor to build our 86-seat theater, lobby and box office. We expanded to the next unit, building offices for staff. … The first hire was a box-office staff member, and little by little, we have grown to be an eight-full-time-staff company. It might be called show business, and it’s certainly a business—and it needs to be run like a business.”

Celona said business success led to CV Rep’s current status.

“We started as a non-union theater that contracted Equity actors. A few years back, the accomplishment of the company as a business allowed us to become a full-fledged Equity house. It makes Coachella Valley Repertory the only Equity house in the Coachella Valley,” Celona said. “What that does is gives us national coverage.”

Celona said the CV Rep production of Terrence McNally’s Master Class in 2013 marked a key moment in the company’s history.

“That particular production was a turning point for Coachella Valley Repertory. Why? Because of the recognition of its production values and the cast,” Celona said. “Basically, we got a wide word of mouth, and it spread like wildfire. People who had never heard of us started to check us out. Prior to that, it was very much a small, contained following. Our subscription base was around 300, and afterward, we shot up to 700 to 800 subscribers the following year. Each year since, we’ve grown by about 200.

With that increase in subscribers, and 8,000 people attending the 2016-2017 season shows—in an 86-seat theater—it’s time for CV Rep to move into a bigger space.

“We have signed an option with the city of Cathedral City to purchase the old IMAX movie theater and two adjoining restaurants—the building and the land,” Celona said. “We have until June 2018 to execute that option. Basically, what that means is we’ve had a capital campaign since October 2016 to raise the money we need. The total campaign is a $6 million campaign. We’re just shy of our first $1 million as of right now. We need at least a percentage of that ($6 million) campaign to enter the agreement and break ground and build a state-of-the-art playhouse.”

Celona said he’s proud of the mark that CV Rep and the valley’s other theater companies have left on the valley.

“I think any arts organization in the community … we’re all making a difference,” Celona said. “The difference is to enlighten, inspire and educate our community to be a better place to live in, and (for us to be) better human beings in the world. Theater has always been a mirror to its community.”


Desert Theatreworks has grown in popularity and size since the community-based theater company was formed 2013, in part because the company produces a wide variety of shows, according to artistic director Lance Phillips-Martinez.

“In our first season, we had around 2,000 people who came through and bought tickets. Last year, we had 8,000 people who bought tickets,” Phillips-Martinez said. “We’ve tried to do a diverse amount of productions, and not just things that are interesting to us. What we try to do is broaden our audience with every show that we do, or pick a different type of show in our season that will bring in different audiences and keep them coming back.”

Phillips-Martinez cited a 2015 production of Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone as a show that furthered Desert Theatreworks’ reputation.

“We did it in September that year, when the audiences aren’t always bountiful, and it was nice to get that critical response—and the audiences just kept coming back,” He said. “It was a big hit for us, and it was a different type of show. … We staged and choreographed nearly every number and theme transition. It was all original and a lot of fun.”

Phillips-Martinez said he’s had to battle commonly held assumptions about community theater.

“The public perception that community theater is of a lesser quality is a challenge,” he said. “… The work will speak for itself. If you focus on quality, you can put on whatever you want in your space, and your audience will trust you. That’s what the original challenge was—changing the perception of what community theater is.”

I could hear the excitement in Phillips-Martinez’s voice when he talked about Desert Theatreworks’ move from the Arthur Newman Theatre in Palm Desert’s Joslyn Center to the Indio Performing Arts Center.

“We had outgrown the (Desert Theatreworks space at the Arthur Newman Theatre). We had asked for more space, and they had more to give, but for whatever reason, they were not willing to do that, and it’s fine,” Phillips-Martinez said. “Our customers wanted us to stay there and wrote more than 700 letters to the city of Palm Desert, but after much deliberation and trying, it didn’t happen.

“The city of Indio offered us the space. A solution was made quickly, and the show must go on. We love the space, and the city of Indio is our partner in producing our shows. They’re helping us promote our shows as well. It’s very nice to get a municipality’s support in producing shows, because it gives (us) some new support that we didn’t have before.”

The Indio Performing Arts Center has long had challenges attracting tenants and audiences. However, Phillips-Martinez said that it’ll work out just fine for Desert Theatreworks.

“One of the advantages that we have is we have such a good track record of producing shows, and (a large) number of shows we’ve presented, which is 32 main-stage productions,” he said. “Most theater companies that are local only do three or four a year; we produce eight to 10. If you’re looking for viability and sustainability, (the larger number of shows) is more attractive in sustaining a place like that. The possibilities are good.”

Published in Theater and Dance

The Coachella Valley and High Desert are blessed with a variety of unique and ambitious local theater companies.

But you would not necessarily know that’s the case in August: Not one of the Coachella Valley companies had a single regular show scheduled during the month. However, perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned over at Desert Rose Playhouse: The company just extended its run of Party by three weeks thanks to brisk ticket sales, so instead of ending on July 31, the comedy will now run through Aug. 21.

In other words … there is indeed a theater audience around during the summer. Well, at least there is if a show involves nudity.

Anyway, here’s what local theater-lovers can look forward to from the valley’s most prominent theater companies during the upcoming season.

Coachella Valley Repertory Company

cvrep.org

CV Rep made headlines in July when it was announced that the theater company, which currently resides in the Atrium shopping center in Rancho Mirage, had agreed to purchase the Desert Cinemas theater in Cathedral City.

Wow!

But for now, CV Rep has a season to put on, and every season, founding artistic director Ron Celona chooses a theme. So what can theater-goers expect this coming season? A lot of “Love, Marriage and Life Changing Events.”

The valley’s only Equity Small Professional Theatre will launch its sixth season at the Atrium with Annapurna, by Sharr White, running Oct. 26-Nov. 20. Talk about a life-changing event: “Twenty years after leaving her husband, Emma tracks him to a trailer park in the middle of nowhere for a final reckoning.” From Jan. 18-Feb. 12, things will get a little lighter with Baby. Nominated for seven Tony Awards, “Baby is about three couples on a university campus dealing with the painful, rewarding and agonizingly funny consequences of the universal experience of pregnancy and upcoming parenthood.” The 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama went to Amir Kapoor’s Disgraced, about a Pakistani-American lawyer who is distancing himself from his roots. Meanwhile, his wife, Emily, is a white artist influenced by Islamic imagery. Hmm. The play runs March 7-April 2. The season concludes April 25-May 21 with A.R. Gurney’s Later Life, a story about a romance being rekindled 30 years after it began.

Coyote StageWorks

www.coyotestageworks.org

The last couple of seasons have been turbulent for founding artistic director Chuck Yates’ renowned company. After losing its home at the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum in 2014-2015, the company returned to the theater for the 2015-2016 season for Art and Agnes, both of which received rave reviews.

As for the upcoming season … well, Coyote StageWorks is the only company in town that has yet to spill any of the figurative beans. When I reached out to Yates via email for information as deadline approached, he politely responded: “I am still securing rights to our new season. It will celebrate Legendary Ladies, who have made their marks in the world. All of the shows are comedic, but legally I can’t announce titles until everything is sewn up.”

Yates would also like you to know that between now and Labor Day, any gifts the Equity professional theater company receives, up to $30,000 total, will be generously matched by Emmy Award-winning television producer and writer David Lee, best known forFrasier and Cheers. So … give!

Desert Ensemble Theatre Company

www.facebook.com/DETCStage

Now entering its sixth season, the Desert Ensemble Theatre Company—which shares the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club with Dezart Performs—in recent years has kept things in the family by producing a lot of company members’ own works, and the 2016-2017 season will be no exception.

DETC’s third annual season-opening gala will take place Nov. 18. Boys Night Out, conceived and directed by Jerome Elliott, features popular local singers such as Charles Herrera and Doug Graham. The season will kick off in earnest with Expressions, a new drama by DETC’s Shawn Abramowitz, focusing PTSD and its effect on both veterans and their families; it runs Feb. 3-12. From March 17-26, the company will produce artistic director Tony Padilla’s Lovesport, a fast-paced comedy: “When middle-aged couple Josh and Marty invite home the younger Gary and Ben for after-party drinks, the wine flows, the weed blows, and relationships are changed.” A third, yet-to-be-announced play will be performed April 21-30.

Desert Rose Playhouse

www.desertroseplayhouse.org

It’s been a turbulent year for the valley’s LGBT-focused theater company. In January, founders Jim Strait and Paul Taylor pulled off the seemingly impossible: The company mounted an amazing production of the elaborate Angels in America, Part One, in the playhouse’s barely-bigger-than-a-black-box home in Rancho Mirage.

Problem is, few people wanted to go watch such heavy fare: The show tanked financially. That, combined with a drop in donations, jeopardized Desert Rose’s 2016-2017 season.

However, the company has been saved by a boost in donations over the summer—and by a Party: Desert Rose’s nudity-laden summer comedy has been a wild success, so much so that the company just extended its run by three weeks, through Aug. 21.

Artistic director Jim Strait got a late start on the 2016-2017 season due to the financial uncertainty, but here’s what he’d confirmed as of our press deadline: The season will kick off with Poz, by Michael Aman, running Sept. 30-Oct. 23: “A delightfully unlikelycomedyset in 2003, (Poz is) the story ofEdison, a young actor/waiter with leukemia, and Robert, an older HIV+ man.” The company’s annual holiday show has not yet been nailed down, but it’ll run Nov. 18-Dec. 18. From Jan. 20-Feb. 12, Desert Rose’s annual “Gay Heritage Production” will be Charles Busch’s campy and hilarious Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, along with its companion piece, Coma, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. That will be followed up by Del Shores’ Southern Baptist Sissies, running March 17-April 9. The final show of the season, scheduled for April 28-May 21, can’t quite yet be announced.

Desert Theatreworks

www.dtworks.org

The theater company that calls the Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center in Palm Desert home has already kicked off its packed-with-shows fourth season: Artistic director Lance Phillips-Martinez does things a little differently, running his company’s “season” from May through April. So what’s in store for the rest of the season? The Realistic Joneses is a comedy about two small-town neighboring couples who share more than the same last name; that’s slated for Sept. 16-24. Agatha Christie’s A Murder Is Announced will be performed Nov. 4-11, followed by Christmas My Way: A Sinatra Holiday Bash Dec. 9-18. Desert Theatreworks will kick off 2017 with a dose of Neil Simon: 45 Seconds From Broadway is on the boards Jan. 27-Feb. 5. Musical The Drowsy Chaperone will take the stage March 9-19, and the season will conclude with the musical Next to Normal April 21-30.

Dezart Performs

www.dezartperforms.org

Dezart Performs shifted its focus for the company’s eighth season in 2015-2016: Gone was the annual Play Reading Series. That means that for the company’s upcoming season, for the first time, artistic director Michael Shaw will not be producing any world-premiere shows.

However, the 2016-2017 season lineup is a doozy nonetheless. Coming off of Dezart’s most successful season ever, Shaw and company will kick off at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club with Harvey Fierstein’s dramedy Casa Valentina, running Nov. 4-13. The stars of this show: Straight men who happen to enjoy dressing up as women. That will be followed on Jan. 13-22 by Clybourne Park, the 2012 Tony Award winner for Best Play and a 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner, which “takes a razor-sharp jab at race and real estate in a fictional Chicago neighborhood. The two explosive outrageous acts are set 50 years apart.” Dezart Performs’ popular one-night-only live-radio-show fundraiser, On the Air!, will return to the Camelot Theatres on March 9. Dezart Performs’ ninth season will conclude March 31-April 9 with Chapatti, an “unlikely love story” between two animal-lovers by Irish playwright Christian O’Reilly.

Palm Canyon Theatre

www.palmcanyontheatre.org

The granddaddy of local theater companies usually offers an ambitious mix of one-week productions and longer-running fare, and that will again be the way things are done during the 2016-2017 season. It all starts with farce Noises Off, running Sept. 15-18. There’s trouble, right here in River City, when the classic The Music Man hits the stage Sept. 30-Oct. 9. Changing things up is Jekyll and Hyde, on the slate from Oct. 21-31. Palm Springs Pride always brings the fabulous Bella da Ball’s Broadway in Drag! pageant; this year, mark your calendars for Nov. 4. Del Shores is huge in the Coachella Valley this year; get in the mood for Southern Baptist Sissies happening later at Desert Rose with Sordid Lives, running at Palm Canyon Nov. 11-20. Based on the famous movie, Meet Me in St. Louis runs Dec. 2-18, followed by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Jan. 20-Feb. 5. Head to Argentina—figuratively, of course—for Evita Feb. 17-March 5; that will be followed You Can’t Take It With You, running March 16-19. Sweet Charity brings Neil Simon’s words to the stage March 31-April 16; Ira Levin’s Deathtrap follows April 27-30. Get down with Rock of Ages May 12-21, before Palm Canyon concludes the season with its summer show, In the Heights, running July 7-16.

Theatre 29

www.theatre29.org

Community-theater company Theatre 29 flies under the radar—even though the company often turns out excellent productions up in the High Desert, which anyone can see for a low, low price: General admission tickets are usually just $15. The company produces “seasons” based on the calendar year, and has thus far only announced shows for the remainder of 2016. The Summer Youth Theatre gets the spotlight in Aladdin Jr., running Aug. 5-7. The musical The Secret Garden will take the stage Aug. 26-Sept. 24; that will be followed by Theatre 29’s annual “Halloween Haunt,” Resurgence, taking place Oct. 14-31. Perhaps this show will win a major award: A Christmas Story will be performed for your enjoyment Nov. 18-Dec. 17.

Published in Theater and Dance

CV Rep Writers’ Drop-In Group

Andy Harmon facilitates this group for all writers who are interested in becoming better storytellers, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, June 13 and 27. $15 at the class. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Doris and Me!—From CV Rep’s Cabaret Series

Back by popular demand, this tribute to Doris Day features Scott Dreier singing from the Doris Day songbook, at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, June 19 and 20; and 2 p.m., Sunday, June 21. $25. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

A Funny Little Thing Called Love—From Desert Theatreworks

This Jones Hope Wooten comedy, featuring four tales, is all about that four letter word: L-O-V-E; at 7 p.m., Friday; and 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, from Friday, June 19, through Saturday, June 27. $26 regular; $24 seniors; $16 students with ID. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

McCallum Theatre Institute’s 2015 Summer Session Festival

During the SHUFFLE Concert, a genre-bending chamber-music celebration, the audience chooses what pieces will be performed, at 3 p.m., Monday, June 15. $10 to $15. Argentine twin brothers Martin and Facundo Lombard are joined by five tango musicians for a concert experience based on Astor Piazzolla’s spirited Nuevo Tango in Lombard Plays Piazzolla, at 3 p.m., Wednesday, June 17. $10 to $15. David Gonzalez conjures up jazz-infused narratives in Mytholo-Jazz, at 3 p.m., Friday, June 19. $10 to $15. Three-performance pass $20 to $35. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood—From Theatre 29

This musical ends differently every night, depending on what the audience decides. A rowdy ensemble of actors mounts a staging of Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel, and everyone is a suspect in the murder of young Edwin Drood; at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through Saturday, June 27; there are also 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday, June 7 and 21. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Nicky as Carol—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Carol Channing impersonator Nicky Ciampoli performs a tribute show at 8 p.m., Saturday, June 6; and 2 p.m., Sunday, June 7. $25. At 69620 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Sundays in Summer Series

Tish Oney performs in Divas and Masters of Jazz at 2 p.m., Sunday, June 7. Keisha D sings Keep Calm, It’s Just Love at 2 p.m., Sunday, June 14. We’re Still Here is a cabaret revue featuring Noni Lambertson, Marge Harris, Pat McCann, Patti Gallagher and Jean Sorf, at 2 p.m., June 21. Jeanne Page reworks the Great American Songbook in Reboot Live at 2 p.m., Sunday, June 28. Each show is $11; cash only at the box office. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-325-2731.

Published in Theater and Dance

La Cage Aux Folles—From Palm Canyon Theatre

Georges manages the Saint-Tropez nightclub, featuring drag entertainment. When Georges’ son brings home his fiancée’s ultra-conservative parents, things get crazy; at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 15, through Sunday, May 24. $32 to $36. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

CV Rep Writers’ Drop-In Group

Andy Harmon facilitates this group for all writers who are interested in becoming better storytellers, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, May 9 and 23. $15 at the class. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Fiddler on the Roof

College of the Desert presents Fiddler on the Roof at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 30; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 3; $20 to $45. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Hold These Truths—From CV Rep

During World War II, university student Gordon Hirabayashi fights the U.S. government’s orders to relocate people of Japanese ancestry to internment camps. Gordon begins a 50-year journey toward a greater understanding of America’s triumph—and a confrontation with its failures; at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, May 3. $45. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

The Little Dog Laughed—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Mitchell Green is a movie star on the verge of hitting it big. One problem: His agent can’t seem to keep him in the closet; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, May 17. $28 to $30. At 69620 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

The Magic Show

Dean Apple performs magic and illusions with FlowBox, Chazz and Minnie at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 22 and 23; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, May 23 and 24. $20 to $25. At the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo St., Indio. 760-775-5200; www.indioperformingartscenter.org.

The Miracle Worker—From Desert Theatreworks

The classic play about the life of Helen Keller is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday, from Friday, May 8, through Saturday, May 16. $26 regular; $24 seniors; $16 students with ID. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood—From Theatre 29

This musical ends differently every night, depending on what the audience decides. A rowdy ensemble of actors mounts a staging of Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel, and everyone is a suspect in the murder of young Edwin Drood; at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, May 29, through Saturday, June 27; there are also 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday, June 7 and 21. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

The Sleeping Beauty—From CK Dance

CK Dance presents the storybook ballet at 7:30 p.m., Friday, May 22; and 3 p.m., Saturday, May 23. $20 to $30. At the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org.

Wait Until Dark—From Theatre 29

An apartment in 1960s Greenwich Village becomes the site of theater’s most terrifying game of cat and mouse, at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through Saturday, May 9; there is also a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Sunday, May 3. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

August: Osage County—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The Weston family members are all intelligent, sensitive creatures who have the uncanny ability to make each other miserable. When the patriarch mysteriously vanishes, the Weston clan gathers to simultaneously support and attack one another; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 3 and 4; and 2 p.m., Sunday, April 5. $28. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Buyer and Cellar—From Coyote Stageworks

Emerson Collins (Sordid Lives) stars in the comedy Buyer and Cellar, which focuses on the price of fame, at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, April 5. $45 to $60. At the Helene Galen Performing Arts Center, 31001 Rattler Road, Rancho Mirage. 760-318-0024; www.coyotestageworks.org.

Diva Dish! The Second Helping—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Luke Yankee stars in this one-man show featuring anecdotes about various celebrities, at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 4; and 2 p.m., Sunday, April 5. $28 to $30. At 69620 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Hold These Truths—From CV Rep

During World War II in Seattle, university student Gordon Hirabayashi fights the U.S. government’s orders to relocate people of Japanese ancestry to internment camps. Gordon begins a 50-year journey toward a greater understanding of America’s triumph—and a confrontation with its failures; at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Wednesday, April 15, through Sunday, May 3. $45; $40 previews on April 15 and 16; $55 April 17 opening night; no matinee on April 18. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

The Little Dog Laughed—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Mitchell Green is a movie star who is on the verge of hitting it big. One problem: His agent can’t seem to keep him in the closet; the show takes place at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, April 17, through Sunday, May 17. $28 to $30. At 69620 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Man of La Mancha—From Palm Canyon Theatre

While awaiting a hearing with the Inquisition, Cervantes presents a play as his defense in a mock trial for the prisoners; at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, April 17, through Sunday, April 26. $32 to $36. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

McCallum Theatre

Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye takes place at 8 p.m., Monday, March 30, through Saturday, April 4, with a 2 p.m. matinee on April 4; $35 to $95. College of the Desert presents Fiddler on the Roof at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 30; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 3; $20 to $45. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Miss Gulch Returns—From Desert Ensemble Theatre Company

Jerome Elliott stars in this Palm Springs premiere of “a musical comedy valentine to the romantically disenfranchised,” at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, April 17, through Sunday, April 26. $22, with discounts. At the Pearl McManus Theater in the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-565-2476; www.detctheatre.org.

Psycho Beach Party—From Desert Theatreworks

It’s 1962, and Chicklet just wants to be a surfer—but her multiple personalities keep getting in the way; at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Friday, April 10, through Sunday, April 19. $25 regular; $23 seniors; $15 students with ID. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

Seventh Annual Play Reading Festival—From Dezart Performs

After screening submissions from around the country and world, Dezart Performs offers staged readings of selected plays—and the audience helps choose which one will receive a full production next season; at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, April 3, through Saturday, April 11. $10; $34 for a festival pass. At the Pearl McManus Theater in the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-0179; dezartperforms.org.

That Cancer Show!—From Script2Stage2Screen

Joni Hilton’s comedy-musical about cancer is directed by Gina Bikales; at 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 3; and 2 and 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 4. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-345-7938; www.script2stage2screen.com.

Wait Until Dark—From Theatre 29

An apartment in 1960s Greenwich Village becomes the site of theater’s most terrifying game of cat and mouse, at 7 pm., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, April 10, through Saturday, May 9; there are also 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday, April 19 and May 3. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

It was two years ago this month that the first print edition of the Independent hit the streets of the Coachella Valley—three months after the “official” launch of CVIndependent.com.

Through 28 months of online publication and 21 print editions (two quarterlies and 19 monthlies, if you’re keeping score) so far, we’ve constantly strived to be a true alternative publication—in other words, cover topics that have gotten short shrift in the other local media.

One of those topics was music. Since Day 1, we’ve made an effort to cover as wide of a variety of music as possible—and I am proud of how we’ve done. This brings us to the topic of our second annual Music Issue, which is hitting streets this week. Some of the Music Issue stories have already been posted at CVIndependent.com; the remainder will be posted soon. We have a total of 10 stories previewing acts who will be performing at Coachella or Stagecoach, plus tons of other great music coverage.

Another undercovered topic we’ve been tackling: Issues in the East Valley. I am proud to say you can find two features that focus on the East Valley in this month’s print edition. Kevin Fitzgerald brings us the story of Agua4All, an effort to bring safe drinking water to areas of the eastern Coachella Valley where there has been none; you can read about that at CVIndependent.com on Friday. Also: Brian Blueskye tells the story of Martha’s Village and Kitchen, a fantastic nonprofit in Indio that’s celebrating its 25th anniversary of helping the valley’s homeless.

Finally, I want to mention something we won’t be covering. Yet another topic that’s been undercovered in the valley is theater. For two years now, we’ve made every effort to ethically and fairly review all local productions that run for more than one week—and we’ve done just that.

However, at least for now, we won’t be reviewing Desert Theatreworks shows. After a review of the company’s production of Lost in Yonkers, company management stopped granting us review tickets. It’s worth noting that although Desert Theatreworks’ management took the time to berate the reviewer after the review was published, emails and a phone call from me to discuss the matter went unreturned.

Desert Theatreworks is now the second local company to do this; Palm Canyon Theatre has been denying the Independent review tickets for more than a year now.

The truth hurts sometimes, eh?

Published in Editor's Note

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