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Looking Back To The Once And Future Home Of Canyon Theatre Guild.

After Two Decades On The Road, The Canyon Theatre Guild Wants To Return To Its Birthplace — Old Town Newhall.

Carmen Sarro
Carmen Sarro
By now you have probably heard the cries of Canyon Theatre Guild members — "We want to come home to Newhall!" — and this from newcomers who've been with the Guild for only five or ten years and can't possibly know what it was like when we were based on Market Street at Ye Olde Courthouse!

In 1970 our fledgling theatre group did most of its first "season" in the basement of St. Stephen's Church. It was a temporary arrangement, and in between productions we looked for a new home.

We were shown the old courthouse on Market Street. The first floor was the office of The Clarion, a small local newspaper edited and run by the owner of the building, Jackie Storinsky. An artist's studio sat across the hall, and there was still a courtroom, although not in use.

The second floor was accessed by a stairway off Railroad Avenue. The upstairs flooring had come from the Hap-A-Land dance hall that once stood on the same site. The dance hall was razed soon after it was used as a temporary morgue for victims of the 1928 St. Francis Dam disaster.

Andy Storinsky showed me around. There was a reception area, a small kitchen to the right, and a small storage room without a window off of the reception room. The dance floor could hold about 120 chairs comfortably. We had only about 90.

There was a small, 6x8-foot stage at the end of the room facing Railroad Ave. It could fit a small combo. There was also an attic, with some of its floor covered by plywood.

In 1972 we took the bull by the horns and rented the place for $200 per month. The "we" included Ron and Paula Carlson, Ardeth Clement, George Keegan, Phil and Mary Noel, Gene Little, Ed Shaff, Ed and Elsie Smith, Betty Byrne, Evelyn and Bob Reed, Jim and Lois Scalley and the whole Sarro clan: Joe, Steve, Frank, Christine, David and myself.

We immediately painted all the windows black so we could control the lighting in the room. Next we enlarged the stage and added a proscenium. The kitchen was our backstage, props and quick-change area. The storage closet, with the addition of a shelf and mirrors, became the makeup and dressing room.

Gene Little found a 20-foot, L-shaped bar which was placed in the lobby. It was perfect for serving refreshments. I think it was a couple of weeks later when Jim Scalley first referred to the theatre as "The Rafters," and we all picked up on it. It's still called that today.

Carmen Sarro

During one of our first evening rehearsals we discovered that the train tracks on Railroad Avenue were indeed still being used. In fact, a freight train went by every evening between 9:45 and 10:05, usually in the middle of Act II.

The train not only rattled noisily; it also shook the rafters ever so slightly. The actors learned to "freeze" on stage until the train passed. Then came the ad-libs — "Now where were we?" or "As I was saying. . ." — which always brought laughter.

Even in those early years at the Rafters, 1971-74, we presented top-quality shows. Arsenic and Old Lace attracted a recent Hart High graduate, Rick Huntington, who was cast as Dr. Einstein. Still an active Guild member, Huntington has received many "Goldie" awards for both acting and directing.

Paula Carlson directed Roshomon and cast handsome Cal Bartlett as the bandit. Signal society columnist Carolina Kelly was one of the many women who fell in lust with him. He wore a red loin cloth, sewn onto him each evening by his wife. The show was presented "in the oblong" with the audience all around the raised platform in the center of the hall. Those of us serving refreshments and ushering wore kimonos and greeted guests in Japanese.

Scott Newhall once said our production of The Man Who Came to Dinner was the best he had ever seen, including one he saw in San Francisco with the lead role of Sheridan Whiteside played by the author himself, Alexander Wolcott. For this production we added the gimmick of mentioning prominent people in the audience when Christmas gifts were given to the cantankerous Whiteside. "Here's one from Tony Newhall, and one from Connie Worden, and one from Flo Chesebrough. . . ." The audience ate it up.

Shows at the Rafters included Pinocchio, The Children's Hour, Plaza Suite, Don't Drink the Water, Inherit the Wind, Come Blow Your Horn (being restaged this coming year), Winnie the Pooh and one of my personal favorites, Butterflies are Free, in which I played the boy's mother.

We were at the Rafters until the infamous leg-through-the-ceiling-with-pieces-of-tile-falling-on-the-weight-watchers episode that the late Dan Hon LOVED to tell about. We spent the next dozen years at various locations such as the multi-purpose room at Placerita Junior High, and we even built a theatre in Canyon Country that we named the "Storefront Playhouse."

The Canyon Theatre Guild has been at Callahan's Old West Trading Post in Saugus for more than ten years, but you know what? We want to come home to Old Town Newhall.

The Guild has a grand plan that would lend itself well to a revitalized Old Town, and we are very encouraged that the City of Santa Clarita's Newhall Redevelopment Committee has strongly endorsed our plan to become the flagship of a new theatre and arts district.

I am confident that all the new Guild members (our open casting adds new members with each production) and the numerous patrons of the arts will support and encourage our move back to Newhall.

And I don't foresee any problem with the last Metrolink of the evening tooting its horn as it passes by. Our accomplished performers can "freeze" with the best of them!

Carmen Sarro is a Founding Member of the Canyon Theatre Guild.

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