‘Exciting times’ for transcendent performers

Impossibly talented, cheerful and tireless, the Transcendence Theater Company performers really do look they’re “Dancing Through Life,” the Broadway Under the Stars program of song and dance returning this weekend to Jack London Park.

Last week’s opener was masterful, as the company, in various configurations, delivered numbers from “Chicago,” “A Chorus Line,” “Mama Mia” and many more shows. Porter, Gershwin, ballads and comic relief… they even slipped a Journey tune in the mix.

That, as they say, is entertainment. With a touch of Glee for the kids.

The show is a flawless whirlwind of 24 numbers – and that doesn’t count the Andrew Lloyd Webber medley of 19 songs delivered with comic perfection by Leah Sprecher and Stephan Stubbins., who also arranged the show-stopping segment. (In retrospect, Webber wrote some great tunes; alas, most are easily lampooned.)

Stubbins is the co-executive director of the theatre company, managing much of the backstage production headaches. He also appears in several production numbers, including the signature Webber bit. The Sun caught up with the ever-busy impresario as the company preps for another weekend of shows.

Sun: The performers look they are having the best time ever. How is that even possible?
Stephan Stubbins: I’m so happy you picked up on the energy of how much our performers love being here and performing for this community. It’s one of the great joys of our company to be able to invite our favorite people in the world to come join us to perform in these shows, and we make it a point to only hire people who deeply align with our values and our company’s core principals. This kind of hiring makes for a better energy, a better connection, a better company, and the best art.

Sun: It ain’t 42nd Street, but the setting here is pretty amazing, too.
SS: This opportunity to integrate with a community during the pre-show and then to perform in that beautiful and breathtaking outdoor setting with people you love, for a community you love, all aligned on the mission to inspire and uplift each other, makes it a joy for all of us to do. Our performers often comment about leaving Sonoma with such a wonderful glow that they take with them.

Sun: That sense of joy really comes through the performances. But it has to be really, really hard work to get to that point.
SS: It is a whole lot of work, and since we’re still a very young company with a very tight budget and a very small staff, it takes a lot of dedication and extra hours to pull off every element of these shows seamlessly. That’s where the quality of the people we choose to work with is so very important, because all of us are expected to go beyond the usual limits to make this a success. We sometimes refer to ourselves as being in that “entrepreneurs working out of our parent’s garage” stage of the company. We know there is an enormous potential. These are exciting times for us.

Sun: How did your second season evolve?
SS: The preparation for these shows is very deep. It starts with the naming of the shows and the deciding on a theme, and continues into the casting of the performers and the choosing of material for the specific performers.

Sun: Meanwhile, backstage…
SS: There are so many logistical challenges with the space itself, and with the turning of an empty field into a performance venue for over 800 attendees. The bringing in of chairs, lighting, dressing rooms, portable restrooms, sound and stage equipment, the coordination of relationships with sponsors and vendors, the promoting and marketing of the events, the housing and travel for all of the performers during one of the busiest times of the year to find housing… all of it is a big challenge, and one we’ve been able to manage thanks to the wonderful support from our volunteers, donors and community members who have stepped up and believed in us.

“Dancing Through Life” plays the Jack London State Park outdoor amphitheatre Thursday, Friday and Saturday, August 15-17. Pre-show picknicking begins at 5 p.m., and the concert starts at 7:30 p.m. $29-$117. 2400 London Ranch Road. Transcendencetheatre.org.

PHOTO: As if he wasn’t busy enough behind the scenes, Stephan Stubbins, second from right, appears in several numbers in “Dancing Through Life.”

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