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Theater company presents ‘electric’ new play

Theater people are known for their ability to multitask. Company members at Ophelia’s Jump, however, are taking the word to new heights.

They’re preparing for their 2017 season while rehearsing their production of The Electric Baby, a darkly comic play they’ll perform December 9 through 18 at the Theatre Company Performing Arts Studio in Upland. They are also in the midst of an ambitious fundraiser, focused on getting Ophelia’s Jump a new theater.

As Ophelia’s Jump gears up for The Electric Baby, the need for their own space is glaringly obvious.

The borrowed Upland venue is otherwise occupied, so rehearsals are being held at the home of artistic director Beatrice Casagran and her Ophelia’s Jump co-founders, husband Randy Lopez and their daughter Caitlin Lopez.

It’s not an ideal situation, but the thespians are making do. A Monday evening rehearsal showed off the talent of the cast of six as they play flawed but compelling characters, as well as their willingness to explore emotionally raw terrain. The Ophelia’s Jump website features a description of Stefanie Zadravec’s play, which is infused with tension, drama and more than a hint of mystery.

“When Helen causes a car accident that kills a young man, a group of fractured souls cross paths and connect around a mysterious dying baby who glows like the moon. Folk tales and folklore weave throughout this magical story of sad endings, strange beginnings and the unlikely people that get you from one place to the next.”

As the cast gathered, Ms. Casagran was finishing work on a mailer she’s sending to past supporters of Ophelia’s Jump, which was named Claremont’s 2016 nonprofit of the year. She’s seeking patrons to help put the theater in theater company. Ophelia’s Jump is also collecting donations through a Facebook campaign.

Ms. Casagran hopes the company can get into a new theater in time for their 2017 season. Considering the season starts January 27, with a production of the critically acclaimed play Quilters, it’s a tight deadline.

Still, Ms. Casagran is confident the community will rally to support the local theater company. “We’re at the point where we’re going to make this happen,” she said.

On their way

Obtaining a theater has been a goal for the founders of Ophelia’s Jump since the company’s launch in 2012. The dearth has been a challenge, Ms. Casagran said.

When it comes to their productions, Ophelia’s Jump has taken a page from a famous stage character. Like Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, the theater company has had to rely on the kindness of strangers. More accurately, Ophelia’s Jump has relied on the kindness of community partners willing to lend them a stage.

Pomona College is chief among these.

When the company made its debut, shows were held at the Seaver Theater. It grew too complicated, however, to squeeze Ophelia’s Jump productions into the theater’s busy performance schedule. Pomona’s Sontag Greek Theatre—a lovely outdoor amphitheater built in 1914—still serves as the venue for Ophelia’s Jump’s popular Midsummer Shakespeare Festival.

Claremont High School’s Fruechte Theater has also been used by Ophelia’s Jump but, given the productivity of the high school theater department, the stage is almost constantly in use. The same is true of the Upland venue where Electric Baby will be presented.

The bustling schedules of these ersatz theaters has caused Ophelia’s Jump to present very compressed runs of their shows, which has a negative impact on the company’s bottom line. For instance, eight performances of the play Tribes—presented last June—had to be squeezed into two weekends.

Scrambling for borrowed venues has also hampered the theater company’s ability to sell subscriptions. You can’t sell tickets for shows if you are unsure of where, if at all, they will be performed.

Ophelia’s Jump has already found a suitable place to rent in Claremont. Ms. Casagran figures they need a minimum of $25,000 to build the space into a functioning theater. They raised $10,000 of that last year through online donations and a small but significant grant.

Garnering the remaining $15,000 is a lofty goal, but as of press-time, the theater company had already collected more than $5,000 through a Facebook campaign launched in conjunction with #GivingTuesday.

Ophelia’s Jump is benefiting from a classic town/gown partnership; they are one of the nonprofits that have partnered with Claremont McKenna College’s business program. Their CMC source consultant told Ms. Casagran that once a theater company gets a stable space, their profits typically go up by 400 percent within the first year.

Increased revenue will help Ophelia’s Jump move closer toward its goal of being an equity theater. Since the nonprofit’s inception, Ms. Casagran and Ms. Lopez have been dedicated to the goal of paying a living wage to their company members and a fair salary to guest performers.

“We want to treat our actors and artists professionally,” Ms. Casagran said. “I think art is important.”

Having their own theater will also allow Ophelia’s Jump to engage in art education. Ms. Casagran, a Pitzer College graduate, teaches drama, playwriting and directing at Diamond Bar High School. She is passionate about helping young people forge meaningful experiences—and maybe a future career—in theater.

She plans to host “process-based” summer theater camps for aspiring young thespians, both those who can afford to pay and through scholarships. Participants will be immersed in subjects like Shakespeare, improv and stagecraft, then perform a “green show” 30 or 45 minutes before the start of the featured attraction of Ophelia’s Jump’s annual Midsummer Shakespeare Festival.

If you’re among the many locals who have become festival regulars, you’ll be gratified to hear the program has been set for the 2017 festival. Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing will be performed in repertory, with performances of the tragedy and comedy presented on alternating nights.

The Bard famously said, “The play’s the thing.” For now, The Electric Baby is the thing on which Ophelia’s Jump is focused. That and finally making it home.

Performances of The Electric Baby will be presented on December 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 8 p.m.; December 10 and 17 at 3 p.m. and December 11 and 18 at 4 p.m. Tickets, which are $23-26, can be purchased on the theater company’s website at opheliasjump.org or at the door; advance purchase is advised as shows sometimes sell out.

You can also contribute to the fundraising campaign on the company’s website, or on Facebook; just search for “Ophelia’s Jump Needs a Home.”

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com