by Jane E. Moore
Many people have asked me over the years how the Camp Rose Players came to be and how the first show came to fruition. Well, it was in the spring of 1976. We at Camp Rose Inn were not only celebrating our birth as a nation, but it was the same year that brought to life the Camp Rose Players. I have always had a love of theater and things theatrical. When our restaurant was in business, we always had some event or other going on: talent contests, local art bazaars, live local music, Halloween parties, the annual leg wrestling championships, and my favorite…everyone gathering around the piano to sing old standards. Valerie Hayes, a customer and waitress here, used to sing songs from Showboat after late evenings at work while I played the piano. I was so impressed with her voice that I wrote to inquire about the cost of royalties to stage that show.
To my dismay, the costs greatly exceeded our budget. I then recalled hearing an interesting story about Josefa Carrillo, whose family owned large portions of California land in the mid-1800s, who married Henry Fitch, an eastern sea captain for whom this mountain was named. I decided we could write and perform our own play and royalties would be no problem. I spent an afternoon with city historian, Ed Langhart, who kindly lent me a book about Captain Fitch and gave me an article written by Mary Stewart, a well-known author who was apparently distantly related to the Carrillo family. From her synopsis, I began writing what was soon to become Josefa and Captain Fitch - a play with music.
As I continued to write, many of the restaurant "regulars" contributed their efforts including Vincent Campanella, who offered to help me when ever he dropped into town. Another customer, Bill Slattery, wrote all the original music. John Born drew our flyers and accompanied Bill Slattery on the marimba while Sara Anna played her violin. Our restaurant's downstairs area then began the conversion from basement to theater and stage. Chairs were purchased as the "As Is" yard at the Salvation Army. Tickets were printed by Gary Solem of Solem's Appliance Store on his office copy machine. All the theatrical roles were filled by customers and employees, including Jack Armstrong who happened to be TV Guide's PR person in San Francisco.
Come opening night, Jack asked a personal friend, Steve Baffrey of KCBS Radio to come and review our show on his program. We were in business!
After a successful run in August of 1976, we were able to form The Camp Rose Players, Inc., a non-profit corporation. My original script was copyrighted that same year and may now be found in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Director James Scally went on to direct our next three successful productions, and since its inception, our actors have graced the stage with a collection of characters from more than 50 shows including Cinderella (a British Pantomime), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Where's Charlie, Lion in Winter, The Sound of Music, The Boys from Syracuse, Singing in the Rain, Hello Dolly, The Most Happy Fella, It Runs in the Family, The Odd Couple, Tom Jones, Little Mary Sunshine, Gigi, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Canterville Ghost, Guys and Dolls, Brigadoon, Calamity Jane, and many more. Some of our actors have been in the Camp Rose family since our very first year! In fact, you could almost say it's a family affair. We have several husbands and wives, even entire families who perform in shows together, including members of my own family who either act, play an instrument, or are part of our production office and backstage crew.
Our small performing space now boasts 30 actual theater seats, thanks to a recent acquisition from Healdsburg's Raven theater, and a professional quality lighting board and sound system. Even without advertising, our mailing list has grown in popularity to nearly 700 people - far more than can fill the available seats for our normal schedule. It is a real testament to the devotion of our faithful patrons. The price of admission will buy you an evening's entertainment: a musical or comedy followed by after show treats in our home after the show, and a chance to chat with the actors, who may just turn out to be a neighbor, friend, or member of your own family. I believe the key to success is not only the unique space in which we perform, lending a new meaning to "little theater," but that we have a group which works well together doing something they truly enjoy - entertaining.
by Suzanne Webb
President and Resident Director
Being Jane's eldest daughter, I can say I practically grew up in the Camp Rose theater.
Although I was prodded onto the stage at a young age in two productions, it was enough to know that acting just wasn't for me. I did, however, love all the behind-the-scenes work. After stage managing at Camp Rose for a good many years my mother asked me to step into the her role as resident director and president. I am now dedicated to continuing her theatrical legacy.
There's a lot of theater in Sonoma County - all kinds to be sure. While I jokingly refer to this as the Fitch Mountain Theater District (as we are the only theater in its district), Camp Rose is a truly unique operation that embraces what I think of as the true spirit of "community theater".
Our little theater has always been a family affair. Nearly every member of the immediate and extended family has been on its stage or behind the scenes. (I laughingly say it's a clause in the family contract that you must be involved in the theater.) This includes the entire Tremont family and my husband Darryl Webb, without whom I wouldn't have been able to take on the task at hand. The Camp Rose family also includes all the actors and crew who comprise its company. We are all kindred spirits that band together for a common purpose, work hard, laugh a lot, and have been delighting friends, relatives, and fellow theater-lovers with performance after performance for many years.
To understand Camp Rose, you have to experience it. For those fortunate enough to have discovered our small corner of the world, we tip our hats to their patronage of our beloved little theater. It was a magical moment in time.
Cast of Josefa and Captain Fitch, our first production in 1976.
Mother and daughter Jane E. Moore (above) and Suzanne Webb (below).
Click below to listen to the 1976 KCBS Radio review.