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    Posted December 1, 2014

#EquityWorks: 5 Questions with Center REPertory Company

Center REPertory Company, located in Walnut Creek, Calif., has extended its LORT/LOA contract into the 2014-2015 season. Artistic Director Michael Butler answers our questions and tells us about the company, performing A Christmas Carol for the 17th year in a row and why he values Equity members.

James Monroe Iglehart as Big Daddy and the company of Center REPís 2013 production of Sweet Charity, directed by AEA member Timothy Near.

Credit: Kevin Berne

Q: Why has it been important to be and continue to be an Equity theatre? 
A: We’re very fortunate to be in the San Francisco Bay Area with its abundance of superb actors, both Equity and non-Equity. Having the top AEA actors on our stage is unquestionably one of the keys to our success. Audiences respond first and most powerfully to great acting and great writing. You put those together and it’s magic. And, I love that we’re an Equity Membership Candidacy theatre.  I get a lot of pleasure out of hiring an EMC actor and providing the opportunity for them to work alongside professionals at the top of their game, all the while contributing weeks of employment towards an actor’s eventual membership in the union. Then, hopefully, hiring them again on their first Equity contract — that’s the best!  I am a member of AEA myself and have been since 1979.  I was freelance for most of my career and I know what it’s like to always have to audition.  Rarely does any actor get paid enough, so we have to show our appreciation by valuing the work in every way we can. For now, that means providing a supportive workplace and hiring as many Equity actors as we can. We regularly hire about 25 percent more AEA actors than we are required to.

Q: Tell us about the “Young REP Theatre Workshop,” which is now going into its 42nd season.
A: It’s a six-week summer intensive training program for ages 12-18 that offers courses in musical theatre, acting, directing, playwriting, improv and more, all of which culminate in presentations to an audience. I’ve never seen a program work as well as this one. Kids come back year after year. They grow up with us. I see their lives get changed for the better right in front of me. It’s amazing. We now have alumni of Young Rep performing in New York and all over the country as young professionals.

Q: What can Equity members and audiences look forward to this holiday season?
A: Our current production of A Christmas Carol will celebrate its 17th consecutive year this season. I have to say, we don’t have a lot of turnover in that show. Our cast is very devoted and tends to return every year, sometimes even growing into different roles.

Q: What has Center REP come to mean to the communities surrounding it? 
A: We’re the resident professional company of the Lesher Center for the Arts — a beautiful three-theatre arts center here in downtown Walnut Creek. We’re a very unusual model in that Center Rep itself is a program of the City of Walnut Creek. That speaks volumes to how seriously this community takes having a cultural component to its civic life. Here it’s not just Parks and Rec, it’s ARTS, Parks and Rec! It may sound corny, but I have regular interactions with our patrons before, during and after performances and I know that we’re providing a much needed shot of pure theatrical joy. 

Q: Can you talk about the mission of the theatre?
A: We’ve set out to celebrate the power of the human imagination through our work. And we want to do that by hiring the very best actors, directors and designers we can, encouraging them to bring all of their creativity to the work and then doing our best to support their creativity. That’s a very optimistic goal but it fits our mission. I would say that optimism is essential to who we are. We want to present a complex but ultimately optimistic view of humanity. We want to have joy in our work and we want the audience to experience joy in watching our work. And we want everyone — the artists and the audience — to feel enriched by being reminded what an extraordinary thing the human imagination is. 

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