Summer Repertory Theatre supporters dominate the public comments at February’s Board of Trustees meeting


Courtesy of Summer Repertory Theatre Festival

After 51 years, the Summer Repertory Theatre Festival will be canceled with no plans to start again.

Lucas Cadigan-Carranza, Editor

Santa Rosa Junior College is making a big mistake in canceling its life-changing 51-year-old Summer Repertory Theatre Festival (SRT), supporters of the treasured program told Board of Trustees members Feb. 14.

A little over a month after Santa Rosa Junior College officials announced the defunding of SRT, supporters of the popular program dominated the public comments at February’s Board of Trustees meeting.

At least eight public commenters expressed distress and disappointment and urged the college to reconsider its decision.

“I believe that this decision to discontinue Summer Repertory Theatre is a mistake; the loss to the community is enormous,” said SRJC Theatre Arts Production Specialist Kyle McHarris. “The loss to the students will be profound and I think that the Santa Rosa Junior College will be lesser because of it.” 

Matthew Curley, a former student who volunteered at SRT for 17 years, told board members he and his wife met in Burbank Auditorium during a summer at SRT. “It has changed my life. My wife’s life,” he said. “I know of eight other marriages that have come because of people meeting in SRT. It has value.” Curley added that there is no comparison to the networking, the education and the intensity of the work for students who participate in SRT.

“It has no equal, and it should absolutely continue because I’m part of that next generation of people who want to apply their skills in Theatre,” said Dylan Curley, SRJC student and son of Matthew and Amy Curley.

“It is something that brings people together from all walks of life and has certainly helped many people’s mental health,” said Ken Gibson, a former SRJC student and employee in the Theatre department. “It’s a tool that the community gets the benefit from and that’s a very wonderful thing.”

Tara Farrell, a former SRT costume shop and production office employee delivered the last public comment on the matter. “I know without a doubt that my experiences at SRT were the foundation stones on which I built my Theatre career. And I know I’m not the only person with this story, obviously,” she said. “In our current times, we need Theatre more than ever. We need voices telling these stories to help us connect with one another. To get more perspectives out in the world.” 

The decision has disappointed many more SRT fans, including both students and faculty who did not speak at the meeting. 

“It’s a very sad loss for our department, our students, our community,” SRJC Theatre Arts Department Chair Leslie McCauley said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

McCauley added that SRT was instrumental in the development of those who choose a career in theater.

SRT is a summer theater program at SRJC that fully showcases the talents of actors, designers and other contributors to the process. SRT holds four productions per summer with a total of 40 to 60 performances over the course of eight weeks.

Throughout its history, SRT has enrolled more than 9,000 students to receive training in all areas of theater production. SRT alumni have gone on to work in professional settings, such as Broadway, film and television.

Frank Zwolinski founded SRT in 1972 and, upon retirement in 2006, passed the mantle of leadership to James Newman, who has remained SRT’s artistic director.

According to Newman, SRT bounced back from the pandemic with changes he made to save money after budget cuts in 2018. “I was actively looking for ways to continue the program and absorb the cuts,” Newman said.

Despite his efforts, college officials still decided to stop offering the program, with no intention to restore it in the future.

“We are a larger group of things that SRJC is not planning to do anymore,” Newman said, taking issue with the college’s terminology. “Suspension is a more accurate term for what they’re doing.”

Despite SRT’s website claiming that alternative options are under consideration, Newman said there are no such plans and that the press release spoke falsely.

“The way they have handled this at every step has led to more questions that they are disinclined to answer,” Newman said.