Life on the stage begins at 40 for the Valley Players

Feature Article in the Daily Republic, by Amy McGinnis, May 12, 2017

A group of women in the Napa Valley took the adage, “it’s better to light a single candle than curse the darkness,” to heart.

When it became hard to find — and secure — roles for women over 40 in community theater, they formed their own troupe, the Valley Players, for that very purpose.

The youngest member of the Valley Players is 53. Others are in their 60s.

“We get better with age,” said Patte Quinn, one of three women who began the troupe.

Performing the show is the easy part. Thirty scripts were read to find  a new one to suit the women of Valley Players.

“We had a hard time finding something we hadn’t done before,” said June Alane Reif, one of the co-founders. As she narrowed her Internet searches, the choices continued to decrease, she said.

Debbie Baumann, a co-founder, directed the troupe’s first show, “The Lover,” earlier this year. She’s playing Holly in “Anton,” a role a 25 to 35ish soap opera star.

“It’s my escape,” she said of theater.”It lets me be me and so many other people. It gives me joy.”

Most members of the troupe bring vast experience in Bay Area community theater, on and off stage.

Member Bonnie Gamble earned her bachelor’s degree in dramatic art from UC Berkeley.

“You go to several auditions and there are no roles for women over 40,” she said, citing an example of 14 shows with a total of five parts she could play. And, many of those are precast.

Carlet Langford is tackling three roles in the show, that were written to be played by one thespian. She met Gamble while both were part of Bay Area Stage’s “Sister Act.”

She’s “very, very, pleased and happy” to be part of the group. “It’s nice how the company focuses on women,” Langford said. “It was brutal, I went for a year without being cast.”

And, even tougher since she is black, Langford said.

In 2000, she was a chorus member for Barbara Streisand’s millennium concert in Las Vegas.

She credits Bay Area Stage Productions for its willingness to look beyond traditional casting. Naps’s Lucky Penny is also open to the idea, she said.

Typical roles for women over 40 are often someone’s mother or the crazy old aunt. the women said.

Two women, including one who is 82, are writing plays with the Valley Players cast in mind, Baumann said.

Men and younger women, are also part of “Anton in Show Business.”

Magan Palagi, 30, is directing the show.

“I find the mission to be inspirational,” she said of the Valley Players. “I hope they have roles for me when I turn 40.”

The crew has just one woman,  lighting technician Lu Kenmonth, “I don’t act or sing and I don’t direct, unless it’s children,” she said. She directs the musicals at the school where she teaches second grade.

“I love it,” she said of working with the Valley Players. “I’m in on the magic.”

Talk of forming the troupe started about two years ago, said Reif. A lot of the time was spent reading scripts.