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Home > Past Buzz > Fledgling theater company hoping for 'Fame'


By Jennifer McBride
April 13, 2005
Few things are as scary as starting a new organization or business from the ground up. Possibly even more challenging is trying to start a new theater company.

However, a group of Bay Area actors and performing arts educators, including many from Los Gatos, have decided not to let the fear get to them.

Introducing the Actors Theatre Center.

ATC, headquartered in Sunnyvale, is a group of theater and education professionals from all over the Bay Area who have come together to form a brand-new, nonprofit performing arts company dedicated to providing performing and educational opportunities to students and adults year-round. ATC plans to offer a wide variety of performing arts training classes and three to four full-scale theater productions throughout its season, which will run from September to August each year. The new group's first full-scale production--Fame, The Musical--opens on April 15 at the Historic Hoover Theater in San Jose.

ATC's founder and artistic director is Jeff M. Hicks, a Los Gatos High School graduate with an extensive work history as a theater director, musical director, producer and educator throughout the Bay Area over the last 15 years. Hicks has performed and directed for many companies, including West Valley Light Opera, Children's Musical Theatre of San Jose, TheatreWorks, Gaslighter Theatre and Theatre in the Mountains. His productions of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, 42nd Street, The Odd Couple, The King and I, Gypsy, Annie and Oklahoma, as well as the West Coast premieres of Footloose and Titanic, The Musical and the world premiere of The Rookie and the Pro, have been award-winning.

Hicks has also served on the faculty of many local schools, including Los Gatos High School. Recently, Hicks completed a two-year tenure as director of performing arts at Presentation High School in San Jose, and, in addition to now running ATC, he is on staff at West Valley Elementary School in Sunnyvale.

"We decided we wanted to do something kind of on our own, focusing on the individual artists and letting each person's talent shine and nurturing that talent. That's why we've put this together," says Hicks. "All too often in community theater it's just about getting the show up, and we really want to focus on people's talents and enable them to take that talent to the next level in what they strive to do."

ATC is supported by a board of directors, which consists of theater and education professionals from across the Bay Area. Serving as chairperson is Dr. Lorrie Wernick, an experienced teacher and principal from many middle and high schools who also works as Cupertino Union School District's coordinator of pupil services. Also serving on the board of directors are Bob Nelson, Jeremiah B. Clauss, Kara Ayn Napolitano, Dan Harris, Gail Hicks and Mike Welch, who have a wealth of combined experience as teachers, technical designers, actors, choreographers, vocal and music directors, props and costume designers, comedians and directors.

Harris, a Los Gatos High graduate who acted under Hicks' direction while a student in the school's drama department, says that despite the challenges, everyone is welcoming the task of helping the theater company get on its feet and put out an amazing first production with Fame.

"It was Jeff's vision to start something new ... and we're all behind him," he says.

Harris says many tell him that in the first two years of any theater company it is impossible to get ahead financially.

"We're prepared for that," he says. "We're just trying to get out there as much as we can."

He adds that in order to help cover expenses for Fame, such as renting the theater, building the set and acquiring costumes, members of ATC solicited donations from family and friends and the actors were willing to pay a participation fee to perform in the cast.

"Financially, it's not the easiest thing in the world to do, when you've got to come out of nowhere," he says.

Hicks says he couldn't be happier with the ensemble they have for Fame.

"We've been lucky to have a brilliant cast for our inaugural production of Fame. They've all worked really hard to present this show, and it's been a pleasure to watch how they've grown from day one to now, so I'm really looking forward to seeing it open," he says.

Hicks and Harris say ATC is already setting plans for its summer conservatory, which will consist of summer camp-like classes in areas of performing arts such as TV production, costumes and set design.

"We have wonderful plans for our summer conservatory, for children in grades seven through 12," says Hicks. "They will get to learn from professionals in the field; they'll get a feel for what professional theater is like."

Hicks says the production this summer will be Jekyll and Hyde, The Musical.

"I've never met a kid who didn't have a good time [at summer conservatory]," Harris says.

Hicks says another coup for ATC came along when they were granted the rights to produce the renowned musical Cats next year.

"We've been very lucky to get permission to do that; we'll be the first non-professional company to do that in the area," says Hicks. "It's a fun, exciting time for us."

Theater-goers will be able to see Harris take the stage in the role of Nick Piazza when Fame opens on April 15. Harris says his character is a student obsessed with becoming a professional actor.

Hicks serves as the show's stage and musical director, with Harris by his side helping out with direction. Other locals involved in the production include Nancy J. Kwong, the choreographer, who hails from West Valley Light Opera, and Joanne Neish from Los Gatos United Methodist Church, who is the show's vocal director.

Performances begin April 15 at the Historic Hoover Theatre, 1635 Park Ave. in San Jose. Show dates are April 15, 16, 20, 21, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and April 17, 23 and 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for children 10 and under or seniors 65 and older. For tickets, call 408.998.TIXS or visit For more information on the Actors Theatre Center, call 408.985.5500 or visit


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