Transcendence Theatre Co. brings Broadway to the great outdoors

There are challenges to putting on Broadway-style productions in a historical state park, but the dedicated artists of Sonoma County-based Transcendence Theatre Company wouldn’t have things any other way.

Although setting up walls in a field and rigging equipment admittedly takes a lot of effort, the rewards far outweigh any inconvenience.

“Nature is an element, and sometimes it’s the star of the show,” says Stephan Stubbins, remembering one night when a shooting star high in the sky prompted folks in the audience to gasp collectively.

Stubbins is co-executive director of Transcendence, a nonprofit troupe celebrating five years of mounting shows at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, about six miles away from Sonoma; its revue currently onstage is called “Dance the Night Away.”

Although most of the several dozen performers appearing in the summer “Broadway Under the Stars” series have appeared on Broadway, they’re also united by another common goal.

“We are all about art as service,” says Stubbins, who adds that troupe members don’t audition, but come to the organization through referral.

All are community minded, all have open hearts.

In addition to performing unique shows created collaboratively, they welcome audiences, take tickets and even pour wine; the organization has multiple wine country sponsors, and part of the Transcendence experience is enjoying a gourmet picnic and liquid refreshments in the gorgeous setting before the show.

The company’s history is entwined with the 1.400-acre park, which was about to be closed due to lack of funding in 2011.

It just happened to be around the time Stubbins and a group of theater friends — who had quit their jobs and moved to Baja Mexico, where they founded a troupe — were looking for a new project centered on theater in park lands.

They borrowed money to produce a concert in an empty field, and the benefit was a success. A nonprofit group took over running the park, and its attendance has since doubled. In five years, Transcendence has raised $217,000 for the park.

Starting with $83 in a bank account, Transcendence has grown steadily over the years.

In its first season, 14 shows were seen by about 7,000 people. Last summer, attendance was 26,000,

Today, the budget is about $2.7 million.

Calling the company “rapidly growing,” Stubbins stresses that programming goes well beyond the summer revues. Transcendence offers classes, community outreach, kids’ camps, open mic nights, private performances and a holiday show in Santa Rosa.

Although they’ve “never had a flop” and are enjoying increasing audiences from the North Bay and tourism industry, Stubbins says he and his administrative partners would like to see more visitors from San Francisco, the East Bay and South Bay.

Another ongoing challenge for the group’s leaders is to make sure they take care of themselves, even though, he says, “We would gladly work ourselves ragged.”

He says the one “extra thing” he gets to do this time of year, comprising about 5 to 10 percent of his duties, is perform in a show.

IF YOU GO
Dance the Night Away
Presented by Transcendence Theatre Co.’s Broadway Under the Stars
Where: Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Sundays; closes Aug. 21
Tickets: $42 to $79
Contact: www.transcendencetheatre.org

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