Sacramento Lifestyle was a print and online publication dealing with the culture and lifestyle of the Sacramento area. I wrote a handful of articles for them before they stopped publication.
Sac. Choral Society
Capital Dance Project
William Land Park is the center for the Sacramento family fun. The 160 acre facility has wide open spaces for picnicking with barbeques, sports fields and basketball courts, a nine-hole golf course, duck ponds, pony rides, Fairytale Town, the famous Sacramento Zoo, and the small but wonderful amusement park, Funderland.
While spending the day at a more famous theme park like Disneyland or Six Flags can be great, it can also be exhausting, and a big drain on the wallet. The complete opposite, Funderland has no admission price, so you can come and go as you please while enjoying the rest of Land Park. There are seldom any long lines to enjoy the attractions, and ride tickets, along with food and drink, are available as needed. Special birthday party packages can be arranged as well. The rides are designed to please kids from toddlers to pre-teens, including their charming Carousel, Backroad Buggies car ride, the Funderland Train, the Crazy Cups and other circular rides, and the Flying Dragon, a fairly gentle roller coaster for kids as young as two.
Besides being a relaxing spot for family fun, Funderland is a part of Sacramento history. According to Ashley Edds of Funderland, and owner Sam Johnson, “Funderland has been a part of William Land Park since the 1940s when Ray Silva opened amusement rides in the park. Back then we were known as ‘Land Park Kiddie Land.’” Johnson took over in 1984, gave it a new name and upgraded the rides, maintaining the Carousel and the Oscar the Fisher ride.
There are currently nine rides in the park, but expansion is limited to the space they already have. Edds says “The past few years we have been negotiating with the City of Sacramento on a new lease that would include a number of new amenities, including new rides and an in-park bathroom. We did have to remove one of our favorite rides, the Log Flume, but by doing so we are also able to add two new rides. One of those rides was already installed last June, the Squirrelly Whirl! We plan on adding in another water ride to replace the Log Flume, and have been researching these past few years. We think we have found a good fit, but we still have quite a bit of work to do before we can proceed.”
They have also revamped the Backroads Buggies ride to add more track and provide and beautiful new queue shade structure, and added a number of in-park photo op areas, including Happy the Squirrel, Backroads Buggy Duesenburg car, Red Baron plane, and Funderland travel photo opp area. Edds added they have “completely rebuilt our Carousel ride, repainted all our Carousel horses, and added decorative trees to the Carousel building.” They also improved the birthday party areas to make them larger and more attractive, and overhauled the landscaping with drought tolerant plants and artificial grass.
Funderland is a perfect fit for Sacramento, mixing history with family fun and relaxation. Edds says “We have so many visitors that tell us they would come here when they were kids, and are now bringing their grandchildren. We love hearing how people continue to include Funderland in their family traditions.” It won’t be long until some of today’s young visitors celebrate the 100th anniversary of the park with their own children. William Land Park is located at Sutterville Road and Freeport Blvd., at the Sutterville exit from the Interstate 5 freeway.
Ken Kiunke 5/4/2016. Photos © Ken Kiunke 2016
Originally published in the Sacramento Lifestyle. Reprintable with attribution to the Sacramento Lifestyle and Ken Kiunke
Live theater is what makes a community distinctive in its entertainment and arts scene. While Americans everywhere share the same popular movies and television, and increasing web and streaming-based entertainment, it is the availability of quality live theater and music that can raise the level of cultural vibrancy for a region, and Sacramento has been fortunate to be a growing center for the entertainment arts over the past decade.
Live theater brings the viewer an experience like none other in entertainment. While movies and television have become increasingly hyper-realistic in portraying a story, they lack the personal connection of being in the same space as the performers. In theater, you can make a personal connection with the actors that is impossible through a screen, and the audience becomes part of the show and shared experience. And in every show, success depends on the individual and ensemble performances each and every time.
And Sacramento now has many great options for live theater, the leader being California Musical Theatre, which presents both Broadway Sacramento and the summertime Music Circus. What’s great about both series is that they put together a wide variety of shows each season–usually featuring a current Broadway hit, like the upcoming The Book of Mormon; family friendly shows, like Elf The Musical; classic musicals, like last year’s West Side Story; and musician-based shows, such as Memphis and Rain-The Beatles Tribute.
Richard Lewis, California Musical Theatre president and CEO, says “Live theater is important to any community, and as Sacramento’s oldest and largest professional theatre organization, I believe CMT’s contribution is immense. Each summer, after auditioning literally thousands of professional actors in New York City, Los Angeles and here in Sacramento, we bring some of the best in the business to Music Circus and create a series top quality shows. The experience our patrons have in the intimate Wells Fargo Pavilion is something they can’t get anywhere else. And with our Broadway Sacramento series at Community Center Theater, we also offer some of the most popular touring Broadway shows available. Through those two series, well over 200,000 people attend our musicals annually.”
Music Circus premiered in 1951, presenting shows under a circus style tent. Then in 2003 the Wells Fargo Pavilion opened, continuing their shows in the unique in-the-round style, which brings the audience in close contact with the performers. In 1989 CMT opened the Broadway Sacramento series, bringing national touring productions of current Broadway shows, along with classic revivals, and presented at the larger Sacramento Community Center Theater. This addition brought large scale, world class productions, like Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Rent to the local theater scene for the first time.
This year, the Broadway Sacramento series is presenting The Book of Mormon in March, Disney’s Newsies in April, and Motown The Musical in May to round out the 2015-16 season. This summer, Music Circus, which fits six shows into its brief 12 week season, will be presenting Legally Blonde, followed by Hello, Dolly!, Seussical, Caberet, Nice Work If You Can Get It, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Lewis added “We’re hoping that more and more people will discover what a truly unique experience we offer at Music Circus. Even though we’re going into our 66th season, there are some who have yet to try it. Once they do, I think they’ll be hooked.”
But it takes more than big productions to make a thriving theater scene, and Sacramento is excelling in smaller, more intimate plays as well. Sharing the Wells Fargo Pavilion facility with Music Circus is the Sacramento Theatre Company, which uses three smaller venues, ranging from 85 to 300 seats. While also producing musicals, they include serious dramatic plays by Shakespeare, Chekov and others, along with comedies and children’s shows. The company also runs a School for the Arts to train and develop young talent. Upcoming shows include Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Broadway classic The Fantasticks, and an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Nearby Carmichael is the home of the Chautaqua Playhouse, a 100 seat theater that produces six plays and six Children’s Theater shows each year. They put on a variety of traditional and original shows, and run a School of Performing Arts as well. According to Warren Harrison, he and fellow producer Roger Hoopman select their shows with their audience in mind.
“Our philosophy is to produce generally family oriented plays and musicals that include a mix of newer shows alongside classic ‘crowd pleasers’” said Harrison. “Although we like to appeal to a wide range of ages, the bulk of our audience members are seniors, so that is taken into consideration. Many times we will get requests to revive a particular show or style (mystery thrillers seem to be a favorite), so we try to include these in our season.”
Harrison said that they like to showcase original scripts, from both local and national writers, and that he and Marie Raymond, who runs the Children’s Theater, have also written original shows. The performers for the adult shows are usually from local auditions, with some regulars.
Branching out even further is Celebration Arts, an east Sacramento company that focuses on multi-cultural, multi-discipline performing arts, and strives to provide training and performance opportunities for community residents in dance and music, as well as theater. They produce six plays a year, usually with ethno-centric themes, along with classical, modern and jazz dance, and music though their Celebration Chorale.
Sacramento’s B Street Theatre, which recently received a boost in funding from the city council for a new downtown facility, focuses on contemporary, thought provoking dramas and comedies for both adults and family audiences. But they strive to educate as well.
According to representative Latrice Madkins, “B Street Theatre hosts a School Tour program where an acting troupe and road manager travel into approximately 12 surrounding counties to perform a total of 12 shows per week. Each play is a full, 50 minute professional production. Along with each production, a full Study Guide with pre and post teacher-student activities are made available.” They also reach out to community agencies or institutions for disadvantaged or hospitalized children. Upcoming shows at the B Street Theatre include Frankenstein and Alice in Wonderland in their family series, and Not Medea, a contemporary adult play.
There are dozens of community theater organizations all over the Sacramento area, along with wonderful youth theater programs, such as the River City Theatre Company and El Dorado Musical Theatre, which present high quality shows featuring teen, and even younger performers. Like most performing arts companies, they rely on generous benefactors and sponsors, but mostly on enthusiastic audiences who appreciate the unique experience of a live show and talented performers, something the Sacramento community is happily providing.
Ken Kiunke 1/19/2016. Photos provided.
Originally published in Sacramento Lifestyle. Reprintable with attribution to Sacramento Lifestyle and Ken Kiunke
Many Americans, especially in the Baby Boomer and earlier generations, grew up with choral music as part of their weekly church services. Whether Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or many other denominations, most churches had a choir and hymnals, and choral music was part of everyday life. Now with praise and other types of worship music replacing traditional choirs in most churches, many people rarely if ever get a chance to hear choral singing. But Sacramento area residents are lucky to have a world-class choral group performing year-round. The Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra performs concerts featuring traditional baroque, classical, and romantic era music, including masses and other religious music, along with secular and modern music, musical theater pieces, and of course holiday classics.
James McCormick, President of the SCSO, says that “Conductor Donald Kendrick is the artistic director and he is known for his program abilities. While we love the Romantic and early 20th century works, he has made it a point to incorporate classical works and earlier works from the Baroque period. On the annual Stained Glass concert he will sometimes include Gregorian Chant and Renaissance music. One of his gifts is the ability to pair a tried and true work (like Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater) with ‘accessible contemporary’ works to stretch the ears of the performers and the audience members as well. As artistic director, Kendrick has to take into account whether a given piece stimulates and challenges the singers and our professional players, will the piece have great audience value, and is there an educational component that the piece will unveil. He aims for contrasts in moods and textures in various works in a program, key relationships, etc. Lots of things to consider.”
The Sacramento Choral Society is fortunate to have its own dedicated orchestra. McCormick says “Many choruses in the U.S. will engage amateur orchestras now and then, and some brave choruses work hard to engage a professional orchestra for a unique concert. Of the 12,000 community choruses in the U.S., the SCSO is the only large community chorus of its kind to have a collective bargaining agreement with a professional orchestra. As such, in a given two year period we can guarantee employment for these players that they can count on. Since 1996 we have infused the coffers of our local Union (American Federation of Musicians, Local 12) with approximately 2.3 million dollars.” Many of the 55 skilled players in the SCSO are also members of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera.
While the orchestra is paid, the singers are all dedicated volunteers. “The SCSO consists of approximately 150 auditioned singers from 6 different area counties” said McCormick. “They pay annual dues, they pay for parking at rehearsals at Sac State and they buy their own music each year. Total expenses amount to about $325 a year per singer. Approximate 90% of our members work full time, as music is their avocation. All of the volunteer singers read music well and are committed to practicing weekly. We gauge that collectively our members donate about 38,000 hours annually to make our large choral orchestra concerts happen. We estimate that a given singer spends 1-2 hours a week practicing on their own.” In addition to the regular chorus, SCSO also works with a children’s chorus. “We feature the Children's Chorus frequently—certainly at Christmas at our ‘Wells Fargo Home for the Holidays’ concerts, in Carmina Burana, and other special large-scale classical music concerts. The Children provide excellent role models for your people in the audience at a given concert” said McCormick.
The group is popular world-wide, performing in annual international tours, like the upcoming performances in Scandinavia and the Baltics, which will involve travel to Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and even St. Petersburg, Russia. The tours are voluntary and self-funded for the members.
I asked McCormick what he thought the organization brought to the Sacramento community. “Our large 200-plus member team is actively engaged in the arts. At concert time, we draw people from various age groups that reflect the make-up and ethnicity of the SCSO itself. The SCSO singers are the driving force behind our success and enjoyment. They are so committed to great music, to our community, and to the SCSO. Their spirit is amazing and they, along with Conductor Donald Kendrick, make our music-making a total joy. Their combined energy builds a healthier community through music.”
To learn more about the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra, attend an upcoming concert, or even audition to be a part of the group, visit SacramentoChoral.com.
Ken Kiunke 10/16/2016. Image courtesy Sacramento Choral Society.
Originally published in Sacramento Lifestyle Magazine. Reprintable with attribution to Ken Kiunke and Sacramento Lifestyle.
The Sacramento area arts scene is alive and well, thanks in part to the Sacramento Ballet. While the main ballet season lasts from December to June, many of the talented dancers have found another creative outlet during the summer season, forming the Capital Dance Project, collaborating with many other local artists to stretch the limits of dance beyond classical ballet. They put on large shows at downtown Sacramento’s Crest Theater at least once a year, along with smaller events and performances throughout the season.
According to Ava Chatterson, one of the dancers, “We love performing at the Crest. It’s a great venue to combine dancing and video projections, and gives us lots of options artistically. We are a pretty creative group and it’s fun to see all the different pieces that everybody comes up with.” Chatterson added “I think what is cool and important to note about Capital Dance Project is that the dancers do everything themselves. We are the dancers and choreographers creating what you see in the show, but we also do the marketing, social media, financial planning, event coordinating, fundraising, costume making, and anything else you can think of that goes into planning a show! We all care deeply about this project and I think that shows in our performance. It also gives us a chance to showcase our dancers’ other talents, whether that’s making a tutu or posting on social media, we're all quite creative and good at different things!”
The group’s big summer 2016 show was called “Behind the Barre: Made in Sacramento” a spectacular event that featured nine different dances in a variety of styles, and all in collaboration with local musicians and artists. Each segment also featured a short documentary about the piece by local filmmaker Brandon Manning. Dancer Julia Feldman said about her experience choreographing one of the dances in the show “I was able to work with composer and violinist Andy Tan, who composed four original movements for my ballet “Semper Augustus”, which were played live with cellist Alison Leigh, and pianist I-Hui Chen. As a choreographer, having music specifically composed for your ballet is a dream, and I am still pinching myself!”
I asked Feldman how dancing with the Capital Dance Project was different from working with the Sacramento Ballet. “I have several roles as a member of Capital Dance Project. My role as a dancer with CDP is the essentially the same as being a dancer with the Sacramento Ballet, or any other professional ballet company. For Behind-the-Barre, I danced for five of the nine choreographers, rehearsing for five to six hours a day, six days a week. It is the additional responsibilities that I took on that really make being part of CDP unique. I am in charge of scheduling rehearsals, organizing artistic aspects and logistics of the show, and am one of the promotional event organizers. In addition, I am one of the nine resident choreographers, and devoted an equal amount of time and energy to my piece for Behind-the-Barre. Taking on that amount of work is certainly a labor of love, and many of us have double or triple roles as members of Capital Dance Project, including social media, graphic design, costumes, finance, marketing, grant writing, outreach—the list goes on. Being a completely dancer-run company has become a major part of our identity, and one that we are extremely proud of. It's a model that is rarely, if ever, found in the professional ballet world, and it's a huge reason why we are able to accomplish so much for one show.”
Feldman added that “The fact that we are the ones responsible for all facets of producing a high-quality show, makes it that much more rewarding when we pull off a successful production both artistically and financially. Even more rewarding is realizing that we made, and will continue to make, a significant impact on the current growing momentum in our city’s artistic community. As working artists in Sacramento, it is our goal to continue collaborating with local artists and musicians, so we can strengthen the artistic network of our community and guide it forward together.”
Capital Dance Project is supported by a number of local arts organizations and private companies. For more information on enjoying or supporting the Capital Dance Project, visit capitaldanceproject.org. For information about the Sacramento Ballet, visit sacballet.org.
Ken Kiunke 9/10/2016. Image courtesy Facebook/Capital Dance Project.
Originally published in Sacramento Lifestyle Magazine. Reprintable with attribution to Ken Kiunke and Sacramento Lifestyle.