by Lorie Lewis Ham
The San Joaquin Valley is as rich with quality theatre as it is with agriculture, from Hanford to Fresno and beyond. While Fresno is filled with many different theatre companies, and Visalia has a handful as well, many smaller cities like Reedley also have their own community theatre companies. One of the longer standing local theatre companies is The Kings Players, Inc. in Hanford.
Kings Players began in 1963 when a group of Hanford citizens decided that their city needed such a community outlet for talent, education and entertainment. At first they performed at the local high school. According to Patti Davis, the current board president, the person behind this effort was Audrey Leibold who led the establishment of the Players and in finding them a home from which to present performances. Audrey was on the Board of Directors in the early years and directed and acted in many plays as well.
“The Kings Players, Inc. is a non-profit corporation established to provide an outlet for local talent to hone their stage skills, technical expertise, and understanding of American literature and, additionally, to provide entertainment for the general public,” shared Patti.
The Players found their “home” in 1964 in a building owned by the Chinese Community located at 514 E. Visalia St. It was built in the early 1920s and used for many years as a school for the children of the Chinese workers who were brought to the Valley to work on the railroad and in other ventures.
By 1964 the building was no longer being used as a school and had fallen into disrepair. The Players entered into a contract between the City of Hanford and the Chinese Community to use the building as a theatre, to provide the upkeep for the building and grounds, and to pay for utilities. The Chinese Community granted the Players the right to use the building—also called the Confucius Temple–if they kept certain conditions. “One of those conditions was to keep the south-facing Chinese writing over the entrance that, I’ve been informed, reads ‘Chinese School,’” continued Patti.
Patti first became involved with the company when a friend urged her to audition for a play in 1978. “I came back to the theatre in 2000 and auditioned for another play, subsequently acted in that play, was eventually asked to join the Board of Directors, and have been involved almost continuously since then—acting in plays, directing, working behind the scenes, and being on the Board in several capacities.”
Everyone involved with the Players is a volunteer. Cyndie Maxwell is another of those volunteers and a board member who became involved several years ago when asked to be an intermission piano player. She became regularly involved after being asked again to play piano in 1999. “I’ve enjoyed playing many roles, most of which are older, crabby women – since that is what I am now! And I’ve been the piano player for subsequent Throttlebottom (variety show) shows. Six in all so far.”
Those who volunteer with a small community theatre usually end up wearing many hats. Cyndie has been a stage manager, prop person, special effects and even a seamstress helping alter and make costumes, curtains, tablecloths, etc. “The theatre is a wonderful way to meet people and be active in the community. But what I’ve enjoyed most about the theatre is creating a healthy form of entertainment for people. When they go home smiling – we’ve done our job!”
Debra Stimpson has been involved with the Players for approximately 15 years and discovered them by taking her daughter to shows. While she too has worn many hats, she stated her favorite thing is directing kids’ plays. “I enjoy working with the kids and their parents.”
Actor and director Corey Ralston got his first taste of theatre with the Players at the young age of seven. After continuing to be involved in theatre throughout high school, he then went to Los Angeles for five years. When he returned he jumped right back in and now tries to act in at least one show a season, and direct one.
“I think community theater is a great way for people to come together to work for a common cause,” said Corey. “I am constantly surprised at how people you would never suspect end up having a great deal of talent. For instance in my upcoming production of The Graduate I have cast a former Superior Court Judge. There also are retired people who enjoy supporting the arts and expressing themselves on stage.”
“Those of us who are involved with the theatre do it out of love,” said Patti. “We love the theatre–the sound, the smell, the challenge, the excitement of bringing the written word to life on the stage. We love the applause, the laughter, the camaraderie.”
Patti believes that not only is it entertainment for the community, but that it is deeper than that. It is life-lessons, thought-provoking, and character-building. “Community theatre is a unique art form that draws people of all ages to watch, work, and act together for altruistic reasons.”
Working with a limited budget as most community theatres do, Patti says they are very flexible. “We have to ‘make do’ a lot of times with certain materials for sets, actors available, time available. We make something out of nothing better than anyone else around!”
The Kings Players generally produce four shows a season of all types and they have open auditions (watch KRL’s local audition page for info). They can always use donations of all kinds and sizes, as well as volunteers. They are also always on the lookout for advertisers and donors.
Another area where people can contribute is to their scholarship fund established a few years ago in honor of their founder Audrey Leibold. The scholarship of $200 goes to a local high school drama student for outstanding contributions to theatre. They awarded their first $200 scholarship in 2007 and will continue to award them until the funds run out.
If you would like to help community theatre stay alive in Hanford why not get involved, donate, and definitely go out and support their shows! The Kings Players are located at the Temple Theatre, 514 E. Visalia Street in Hanford. Reservations for seats may be made by calling their box office at 584-7241. Season ticket packages are available any time during the year at a savings over individual ticket prices. Current ticket prices are $10 ($12 for a musical) with discounts ($8) for military, seniors, and children.
Their next production, The Graduate, opens in September running September: 2, 3, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25. Corey is directing this one. You can learn more on their website and on the KRL local theatre listing page.