Making theater is a risky business. Doing so successfully for 75 years is an accomplishment and Hillbarn Theatre celebrates that as it launches its diamond jubilee season this week with “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
The company, established in 1941, was founded with the credo, “To create theater with the community, for the community, striving always for excellence in production and education.” Its first home literally was a barn on a hill in San Mateo; the land on which the current Foster City theater is located was a gift of the city-founding Foster family in 1968.
The family continued to be involved. T. Jack Foster III, son of the original donor, served on the board, his sister Lee Foster became executive director in 2000 and adding the title artistic director in 2009, and her husband Greg Sudmeier served as music director beginning in 2005.
Last year the company, which also encompasses conservatory programs for youth and adults, underwent a leadership transition as Foster and Sudmeier relocated to Georgia and turned over the reins to Dan Demers, who has been acting, directing and teaching theater on the Peninsula for years.
One of Demer’s first steps was to promote Amanda Rocuzzo to managing director. “I couldn’t do anything without her,” he says. “She was really influential in helping us get through last season so that I could focus on bring up the artistic level.”
It’s been a strong transition year in other ways. Some long sought renovations were made to the lobby, bathroom and other public space to provide a more hospitable theatergoing experience. “Plus, our patron base went from 69 percent to 81 percent capacity,” Demers says. “It’s been a wonderful journey and we’re looking forward to the challenges to come.”
Those challenges will reveal themselves over the course of some very traditional programming including “The Odd Couple,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Sweet Charity” grouped under a “Dare to Dream” season theme.
“I wanted do ‘Fiddler’ to bring something different to the holiday season,” says Demers. “To hold up a sense of tradition that doesn’t involve Santa Claus. I also love Neil Simon!”
Amid all the management work, Demers also has to schedule rehearsals since he’s playing the lead in “Forum.” (Last season he was a late fill-in for a supporting role in “Curtains” and swears both “were completely unplanned!”)
Rather than a huge gala, Demers says the anniversary will be marked by “every show being a party plus some fun one-off nights to celebrate!”
IF YOU GO
Where: 1285 East Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City
When: August through May, 2016
Tickets: $98 to $236 (subscriptions)
Contact: 650-349-6411, ext. 2, www.hillbarntheatre.org
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum: Aug. 27- Sept. 20
The Odd Couple: Oct. 15-Nov. 1
Fiddler On The Roof: Dec. 3–20
The Last Five Years: Jan. 21-Feb. 7, 2016
To Kill A Mockingbird: March 10-27
Sweet Charity: May 5-29