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Reviving Children's Theatre in Dixon with 'Willy Wonka Jr.'

Starbound Theatre hopes to bring children's theater back in Dixon with a production of "Willy Wonka Jr." Rehearsals begin on Feb. 16.

A new theater company in town hopes to fill the void that was left when longtime Dixon resident as the director of Dixon’s Children’s Community Theatre.

The company is called Starbound Theatre and with the help of Burton and others, aims to revive the children’s theatre in Dixon. Together with partner Anna Eaton, Starbound Theater’s David Rodgers is recruiting local youths for theatrical production of “Willy Wonka Jr.”

“Willy Wonka is going to be our biggest show, our biggest sets that we’ve ever attempted,” Rodgers said. “What happened was after the movie (‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’) they made a musical version of it. So we are doing the musical version and it’s the junior version that’s more scaled towards young actors.”

What would eventually become Starbound Theatre began in 2003 as a City of Fairfield program Rodgers said. Because of cuts, Rodgers became a subcontractor for the city and named his company Starbound. Over the past few years, Rodgers and Eaton have done 16 or more shows.

When Burton, who for 25 years operated Dixon’s theatre program, took her final curtain call in November 2010, Rodgers and Eaton began seeing youths from Dixon enrolling in their City of Vacaville program.

Rodgers approached the City of Dixon about contracting for them to do a theatre program and it was then that he came to know Burton, he said.

“I credit Marime Burton for helping move the ball along,” Rodgers said. “She was really critical in helping us open up dialogue with the mayor, superintendent and officials with the city,” Rodgers said. “It took a while, about seven months, to open this.”

“It’s true, I worked with him,” Burton said. “He knew about my work with children’s theatre in Dixon from years back. He contacted me when he was having trouble reserving space.”

Burton spoke with both Mayor Jack Batchelor and Interim Superintendent Brian Dolan about allowing Starbound the use Dixon High School’s theater for theatrical productions.

“The partnership between the city and school district goes back five to six years,” Dixon Unified School District’s Interim Superintendent Brian Dolan said.

A joint-use agreement between the city and district allows the use of the theatre because of a sizable contribution of $1.1 million or more that the city made for the construction of the school Dolan said.

“They did so wisely knowing that there is no venue in town for city-sponsored (productions),” Dolan said.

So far, Dolan said that the city hadn’t used the theatre as stipulated in the joint-use agreement so when Rodgers requested its use, Dolan said the school district was happy to allow him to use it.

“I think it will really be a good thing for kids in town,” Dolan said.

“I’m very excited about the children’s theater group getting started,” Dixon Mayor Jack Batchelor said. “This group will provide our young folks the opportunity to experience theater and the hard work that goes into putting on each and every performance.  When the City partnered with the school district during the construction of the new high school, specifically the , groups such as Starbound were seen as a way to resurrect fine arts in Dixon.  I am looking forward to attending the performances that this group will bring to Dixon.”

Also excited is Burton, who said she loved doing theatre in Dixon but is enjoying her retirement.

“I just think theatre in general is important,” Burton said. “I think the arts are important and I think for anyone to appreciate it, it’s eastier to start when they are kids. I miss it, but I’m glad to have all the time.”

Burton said she might consider helping Starbound with its productions on an ad-hoc basis. But she said she will leave the plays up to Rodgers and Eaton.

“I would just love to see them be successful,” she said. “I would love for the kids to be involved.”

Rodgers, – a native of Fairfield who honed his craft at Solano College and San Francisco State University – is no stranger to the stage.

“I have been working in theatre for about 25 years and just doing all aspects,” he said. “I’ve worked for companies all over the Bay Area. My day job is teaching theatre in schools in San Francisco and Berkeley.”

Rehearsals for “Willy Wonka Jr.” begin on Feb. 16, so there’s still time to sign up through the City of Dixon’s website (click here) or directly at , 600 East A Street. The registration cost is $125, plus a $35 materials fee that goes towards the sets and costumes.

Starbound does offer payment plans and scholarships to individuals who need it, Rodgers said.

“You never want to turn away a child,” he said.  “I think everyone should at least try it once.  It’s more about developing your confidence and your self-esteem. Not all our kids are going to be stars on stage, but at least they will become really good members of our community. My goal is to create the next generation of theatre attendants. Because it’s a dying art. ”

The production of “Willy Wonka” will be in May after the Dixon May Fair, Rodgers said, at Dixon High’s Theatre.  The program lasts 10-12 weeks.

For more information visit www.starboundtheatre.com

Gary Erwin February 14, 2012 at 12:43 AM
I hope maintenance costs for the theater will be covered by this group. Each time a bulb blows its twenty five dollars. Over the years the different theaters in Dixon were not maintained. Drapes and the Cyc get torn, lamps blow etc. Each and every performance ought to kick money into an account to help maintain the theater. This account also needs to be watched. I was told a few years back that one of the H.S. shows had a net gain and that money was used for other purposes. The following year there was no money for the next production stranding some of the seniors without a production which is used as a building block for getting possible scholarships or entrance to theater program in collage. The Theater at the New DHS was used for several productions placed in the building by the City during its first year.
Gina Bullock February 15, 2012 at 06:50 AM
Oh Gary I am so happy to see that their are people with concern for this beautiful theater! We too would be disappointed if there are youth without an opportunity to have their production, so we certainly hear your concern. Please rest assure that Starbound Theatre plans to take very good care of it. We have a heart for children and the importance of theater in their lives. I think you will be amazed at the program we offer. We are both excited and appreciative to be in this town. We'd love your support when it comes time to see what these talented children can do and I hope that you will stop by and see the children in action even if it is for a practice! Gina Meyer-Bullock
Gary Erwin February 15, 2012 at 07:57 PM
I'm not sure that I will be "amazed" by your program, my level of expectation is high, think San Jose Children’s Theater in the 80's as well the DHS drama program of the 70's was very good. I know of several people that went from their DHS experience with Richard Farshler into professional theater. Several of us have worked most of our lives based on the experience that he gave us. I hope that you are able to provide the High School Students with roles and production responsibilities as well. I know that it will take years of productions to build a strong base of support up again. You will want to enlist children, young adults and families into your program. I do look at this being a positive move in the right direction and I wish you the best of luck.

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