I moved to Brentwood post-retirement in 2002. My vocation was in sales but my avocation was art — everything from theater arts to fine arts working in clay, oils, and ceramics. I invested a lot of my artistic energies in the performing arts, beginning when I was nine years old, when I was invited to get up on a stage and sing a solo at a Veterans of Foreign Wars fundraiser. I sang a schmaltzy favorite called “The Old Lamplighter,” which pleased the audience so much they asked for an encore, so I followed with “God Bless America.” My first truly memorable onstage moment occurred when I began the first line and the audience, as one, rose to their feet. That felt good, so I subsequently engaged in more than 40 theater events. I fully enjoyed every one of them. I was the director for many of them and for a while starred in a number of musical and dramatic roles. In recent years I’ve been content to play character parts, and now my usual role has become a member of the audience. I continue to enjoy the power of live performance to move the mind, fill the heart and, on rare magical moments, to enchant the spirit.
When I first moved to Brentwood, I devoted the extra time given me in my latest retirement to engage in the arts in every manner possible. I converted a space in our house to an art studio with many tools of creation including easel, worktable, and a kiln. I’ve always had a passion for community involvement so I joined the Brentwood Rotary Club, the Police Activities League, the Arts Commission, and the Arts Society — serving three different terms as society president. I formed the Artists’ Open Studio Tour in 2011 and published a massive full-color brochure that included a profile of 30 local artists plus a map to their studios. The next year I was honored as Artist of the Year.
I wanted to do more than simply bring people to the artists; I wanted to bring artists to the people, so in 2014 I founded the city’s first stand-alone art gallery. Our initial location was on Second Street, right across from the City Park. The location was ideal but the building was small so a year later we moved to a spacious venue at The Streets of Brentwood and named it Delta Gallery. My wife and I have retired from active management of the facility and passed the gallery to the Art Guild of the Delta.
ABOUT THE THEATER
My life, beginning in childhood, has focused upon the arts. Therefore, after retiring to Brentwood in 2002, I immediately immersed myself in the local art scene. During the subsequent decade-and-a-half I launched a number of ventures indicated by the DBAs that I currently own: Studio 59, The Arts Et Cetera, Fine Arts Advocates, and The Brentwood Theater Company. I hoped to audition for roles in local theater productions and became concerned about the city’s nearly complete dearth of public theater venues. I shared my concerns and in 2010 the Brentwood Art Society commissioned me to advance performing arts, so I enlisted the help of Steve Kinsella, who is a professional actor, concert-level soloist, and theater director. In only three months, with the support of the Art Society, we put together the Brentwood Theater Company, erected a temporary theater in an undeveloped space in The Streets of Brentwood, and had assembled a repertoire theatre group that offered memorable performances of Guys and Dolls, Auction Gallery, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was a terribly busy period, of course, but I found sufficient energy and time in my schedule to appear onstage in the final production playing the role of Joseph’s father, who was supposed to be 104 years old. It seemed unusual to put on makeup to make myself appear older than I am after several decades of trying to appear younger. Our initial foray into the arts turned out to be wonderfully successful. Our final weekend played to standing-room-only audiences.
“For more than 15 years the city has been working on a project in coordination with Trilogy to provide some much needed entertainment space.”
We had no deep pocket investors or wealthy patrons so financing the program was a continual struggle. Funding for the arts came from a per-unit arts assessment the city imposes on builders. This was enough for public art and some events but not at all sufficient to build and maintain even a small theater. The original outdoor portable theater used in the first season was wonderful but far too expensive to continue on a regular basis. We rented performance halls at Liberty and Heritage High Schools, at Edna Hill Middle School, and at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center. We appeared in public spaces at a number of smaller facilities too numerous to mention. The cost of renting performance spaces grew continually more difficult until, by the end, I would have rented a vacant gas station.
Last March we presented the Beguiled Again musical review at Trilogy. It was our 26th show — and my final one. The Brentwood Theater Company is moving forward in a new direction. It has renamed itself The Arts Et Cetera. Another new Brentwood group is performing as The New Ghostlight Theatre Ensemble. (“Ghostlight” refers to a single electric light left burning on a theater stage to counter the complete darkness that would otherwise fill the room when no audience is present.) Nancy Torres is president. Helen Dixon was my artistic director and is continuing in the role.
Part of the reason for retiring is that I no longer possess the energy that I had in my younger days. However, I’m still not finished doing what I can to promote the arts in Brentwood. Since I can’t act on stage or manage a big company, I’ve adopted the role as an East County arts advocate. I’m doing some public appearances, but am mostly working behind the scenes using my www.artsetcetera.org website and consulting for theaters, performers, and artists.
A LIGHT AT THE END OF A LONG TUNNEL
For more than 15 years the city has been working on a project in coordination with Trilogy to provide some much needed entertainment space. At the beginning I had a number of conversations with Dan O’brien, the former manager at Trilogy, about the project. The two of us offered our suggestions of what the theater should include and how it should look. The preliminary design, by SDG Architects’ Lance Crenel, shows a modern and impressive site with seating for 300 people.
“It will surely be beautiful when finished; we can imagine it becoming a destination for people throughout the East Bay.”
Before the first spade of dirt was turned, Trilogy included in its contract with the city a plan for construction of the Trilogy Cultural Arts Center & Amphitheater. Shea Homes, the parent company, obligated itself to contribute to building the project near the Marsh House. The cost is projected to be eight million dollars. Financing, on the Shea Homes end, will come from a Vineyards Impact Fee, which is an additional assessment added to the closing cost of each home. Approximately $600,000 is still needed to launch this project, and as building continues in Trilogy and additional development fees are collected by the city, we get closer to this number.
The architectural program will be carried out in two phases. The first will include the amphitheater itself plus an A/V and lighting booth, theater stage, seating (both chairs and lawn), a concession stand, restrooms, a green room — plus a box office, fences, spaces for make-up, wardrobe, storage, and parking. Also included in the first phase is a promenade, stalls for 30 vendors, and a fully equipped wedding venue. A subsequent Art Center and Event Center phase will be completed at a future date. Nothing is settled but the facility may include a banquet hall, commercial kitchen, community center, art gallery, museum, green space, and admin offices.
Maintenance and operation of the facility will be expensive so the city is currently conducting a feasibility study, which will be completed by December and will determine whether the venue will be enough of a regional draw to be self-sustaining. We are hopeful for a favorable report. It will surely be beautiful when finished; we can imagine it becoming a destination for people throughout the East Bay.
There is still no tentative date for the Amphitheater’s opening day. I hope I am still alive and still retaining enough of my faculties to have an opportunity to actually enjoy the facility.
Photos By MUHAMMAD SAADIQ