Theater group stays creative behind the glitz and glamour
Over the span of three decades, the Inland Valley Repertory Theatre (IVRT) has given the region’s budding stars a taste of Broadway ambition. The company’s mission, to provide quality theatrical training to those of all ages, includes putting on professional-grade productions of some of the Great White Way’s most iconic classics.
It’s not all glitz and glamour. The nonprofit theater group must work hard to get to curtain call, relying on the generous donations of others. To the repertory’s delight, donors have come forward in spades, the Claremont Community Foundation being one of the frequent contributors, to allow IVRP to provide high-quality programming.
Adding to the experience, IVRP recently received a $17,000 donation from the LA County Board of Supervisors through LA County Arts Commission to help continue the company’s Equity Guest contracts program, paying for professional actors to work alongside its aspiring actors. Amid the constant roller coaster of keeping the theater thriving, the award is a sweet validation of the journey’s purpose.
“To be recognized by LA County as doing things that are important in the community, that was a really big deal to us,” shared IVRP’s co-owner Donna Marie Minano.
Ms. Minano, a trained singer, and her husband Frank Minano, a professional actor, used their artistic passions to bring the IVRT to life in 1990. The endeavor was a lifelong dream of Mr. Minano, who worked with the South Coast Repertory as a boy.
IVRT began as a nomadic troop, setting up stage at Claremont High School, Chaffey College or wherever space was available. The Minanos pulled together resources, often scouring the family garage for props and costumes. The fabric of the theater company is also a family affair. Mr. Minano often takes the reins as director while his wife manages the behind-the-scenes affairs with help from daughters Amanda and Katherine, who also perform.
After their tenth season run, however, the performances were put on pause as the Minanos focused on raising their girls. But, as artists often say, they just couldn’t keep away. By 2007, IVRP was back in business, this time with a place to call home thanks to the Bollinger Family. The Candlelight crew opened their theater to the local company for Wednesday performances. As they say, “Wednesdays Just Got Dramatic.” Shows have now also expanded to include Tuesday.
Sharing the stage has encouraged further creativity prowess on the part of the Minanos. IVRP must set its season around the set designs of the shows playing at the Candlelight. Not only do they need to make sure the shows’ set designs match, they must then work to secure the rights and privileges that go along with it.
The Minanos have navigated the challenge with relative ease, bringing to life show-stoppers like West Side Story, Hairspray! and Chicago. Mr. Minano is pleased to have the Candlelight Pavilion’s current production, Crazy for You, as the counterpoint to one of his Broadway favorites and the star of IVRP’s 2014 season, Gypsy, which he refers to as “a tale of eternal optimism.”
Gypsy tells the tale of Mama Rose, the ultimate stage mom, and her quest to bring her girls, Baby June and Louise, to the big time. After June marries and leaves vaudeville behind, an accidental gig at a burlesque house gives birth to an unexpected career as Louise transforms into the famed striptease superstar Gypsy Rose Lee, based on a true story.
While the title implies the play is focused on the noted burlesque performer, the story is in fact largely centered on Gypsy’s avid, if not overzealous mother, who will do just about anything to give her daughters the glamorous, star-studded life she always dreamt of for herself. Through the Equity Guest Artist program, Shaelynn Parker joins the IVRT cast as Mama Rose, reprising a role she formerly brought to life on Broadway as understudy to the renowned actress Tyne Daly.
Though no novice to the Sondheim musical and the role of Mama Rose, Ms. Parker has enjoyed rediscovering the role in a new way now that she is a mother herself. She was particularly struck by the character’s emotions when she discovers she has accidentally booked her young daughter at a burlesque house.
“As much bravado as this woman has, walking into this place…Instead of getting angry, which is her go-to emotion, it scares the heck out of her,” Ms. Parker said. “She’s at the end of her rope, going from this idea of being booked at a real theater, which is everything she’s always wanted, to finding out what kind of theater it is. It overcomes me every time. As much as she is ambition-driven, she does love her children, in her own way.”
Though the IVRT is thrilled to have a Broadway veteran on their stage, Ms. Parker’s story hits even closer to home. A 1974 Claremont High graduate, Ms. Parker is pleased to be back in the town that gave start to her career. Growing up, pursuing acting as a profession was less of a choice than an absolute necessity, Ms. Parker insists.
“For a while I considered being a doctor, but I didn’t think I could tap dance into the room and hand over the doctor’s report,” she joked. “I tried to do other things, but it was always acting first. I couldn’t even stay away when I tried.”
Enrolling at California State University, Fullerton as one of the school’s first musical theater majors, she landed her first professional acting gig in Los Angeles. Though torn, Ms. Parker went with her intuition and left school after the first semester to launch her career. Six years and many roles later, the Californian packed her bags and moved to New York in pursuit of her dream to be a Broadway star. Her fantasy became a reality at age 30 when she landed a role in the production of Stardust, singing the title song, an experience that remains vivid years later.
“I was on an empty stage with the ghost light, looking out into an empty theater with that particular color of red on the seats and the stage manager in the very back, singing with the rehearsal pianist,” she recalled. “I can’t even tell you what that was like. It was extraordinary, something I’ve dreamed about my entire life.”
In addition to Stardust, she played Flo in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, standing by for Jean Stapleton, and was part of the original cast of the comedic Menopause The Musical, even going on a two-year tour of the show in Rome, Italy.
After taking a break from acting while raising her children, Ms. Parker is now back in the business, performing and coaching others in the art form she loves. It’s a juggling act she is pleased to undertake
“As actors, we learn every day,” Ms. Parker said. “Your curiosity is never sated, it’s a wonderful way to live.”
IVRT’s production of Gypsy opens this Wednesday, April 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont. Performances continue on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, April 15, 16, 22 at 7:30 p.m. and April 23 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 or $72 for all three shows this season, which include Songs for a New World and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For tickets, call (909) 859-IVRT or go online at www.ivrt.org.