The musical company
Chico Theater Company celebrates 10 years of community musical-theater
“[They] had clearly seen to every last detail, transforming the space into something sleek and gleaming and immensely inviting.”
That’s a line from a 2003 Chico News & Review profile of the then-brand-new Chico Theater Company, which had just taken up residence in the old Chico City Light Opera House on Eaton Road on the far-north side of town. In less than one-month’s time, CTC founders Marc Edson and Brian Holderman had polished up the long-vacant space and transformed it into a 244-seat home for musical theater in time for opening night on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2003, and a performance of the community-theater staple, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
“We had a great opening night. It was a sellout,” said the 54-year-old Edson as we sat around a small café table in the Cabaret lobby.
Since then, the lobby’s walls have gradually filled with the framed posters of 10 years of shows—now totaling 84—mostly musicals: The Music Man, Oklahoma!, Cabaret, Hairspray, South Pacific, Big: The Musical, and several runs of the theater’s bread-and-butter production, Grease, among many others.
“In March [of this year], we sold our 100,000th ticket and had our 1,000th performance,” Edson said.
This weekend, the theater will celebrate its 10th birthday, with a night of dinner and performances of musical numbers from its history of productions, Saturday, Oct. 5, at the St. John’s Parish Life Center.
Holderman left the theater after a couple of years, but Edson has remained, and his jovial, enthusiastic personality has come to define a venue that has lived up to its mission of bringing musical theater to Chico.
Edson does have vivid memories of being bitten by the theater bug as a seventh-grader at Bidwell Junior High School. “My teacher was Mrs. Scott … [and] I loved getting up on the tiny stage and pretending to be someone else,” he said. His involvement in theater continued through his time at Chico State where, while working on a communications degree, he also became heavily invested in “duet” theater competitions.
But after graduating from college in 1983, Edson stopped acting. He got married, had a family, and spent the next 20 years or so raising his two kids and selling radio advertising. “But I never thought about getting into a show,” he said. That is, until he saw a newspaper ad for an audition for The Wild Guys at Theatre on the Ridge. On a whim, he tried out.
He got the part, was awarded the theater’s “Best Male Newcomer” in 1997, and soon after joined TOTR’s board and also helped build the old Chico Cabaret in the Almond Orchard Shopping Center.
Though he credits his background in business with being key to CTC’s success, it was through this immersion in the local theater scene, and getting to work with its passionate and talented players, that Edson got a theater education.
“I just learned a lot from great directors like Marla O’Brien, and [Chico Cabaret’s] Phil Ruttenburg, who is a great director.”
Edson recently left the radio-ad business and is now devoting all his time to CTC.
“It’s worked. I’ve been paying my bills,” he said with a smile. Of course, no one gets into theater just to make money; Edson said that being a part of keeping the theater tradition alive and bringing new generations into the fold are the real rewards of the job.
“I think it’s one of those things that people don’t realize is missing in their lives until they come see a show,” he said of theater’s potential to enrich the community.
Edson walked me around the theater stage to show off the in-progress set, with its faux-stone castle walls and a hidden raised platform where the live band for the show will be perched for the next production, Young Frankenstein.
“We’re trying to skew [to] a little bit younger [of an audience],” Edson admitted, and Mel Brooks’ saucy horror-parody musical—as well December’s A Christmas Story and the 2014 season’s Shrek the Musical—are some of the more youthful choices slated to join the likes of Singin’ in the Rain and Barefoot in the Park over the next year.
“To have been a part of so many lives and so many friendships that have formed … has been very satisfying,” Edson said, reflecting on the time spent on the CTC boards over the past decade.