New theater company hopes to empower women over 40

Feature article in the Vallejo Times-Herald, by Richard Freedman, April 28, 2017

True, the upstart Valley Players community theater group based in Napa targets women 40 and older.

But it’s not as if these glorious gals of the pre-golden years are a bunch of rebel man haters. And they’re certainly not burning their bras in protest. At least not publicly.

That’s not to say the hopeful nonprofit organization isn’t on a mission, with the “short version of our mission statement — empowering women over 40 through the theater arts,” says co-founding member June Alane Reif. “We are looking to empower women who are around our age, not just through acting, but directing, stage managing, lights, sets, off stage.”

And, by no means, notes Alane Reif, “does that mean we will not have young women or any men. Obviously, we’ll have to do shows with all age groups.”

Alane Reif joined co-founder Debbie Baumann earlier this week at a downtown Napa restaurant to discuss the group, which unveiled its productions last December at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville with “The Lover.”

Up next: “Anton in Show Business,” performed May 9-11 back at the Lincoln and May 13-14 in Vallejo at the Bay Area Stage Theater.

No surprise — the big obstacle for the Valley Players is scraping together cash for each production. But that doesn’t quell their determination.

“We’re on a very small budget,” Alane Reif said. “It’s whatever we (the group) wants to put into it.”

Baumann joked that the organization’s treasurer “gets to handle money we don’t have.”

This whole “women over 40” quest began because Alane Reif and Baumann were frustrated trying to find roles at another community theater organization “and there weren’t roles for us any more,” Alane Reif said.

It’s not just a local dilemma, she noted.

“I started doing a bit of research and statistics show women, especially older women, are totally underrepresented in the theatre.”

Alane Reif said that 80 percent of available roles go to men and of the remaining 20 percent for women, 95 percent are for women under 40.

“That doesn’t leave many options,” she said.

So Alane Reif, Baumann, and a handful of others “who had all been involved in theater at some point” started the Valley Players.

Deciding on a name was a story in itself, the two laughed. There were some comical suggestions, and some in the “Vintage Women Players” realm.

“Some of them were pretty crazy,” said Alane Reif.

“We did have some good ones,” grinned Baumann.

What they didn’t want was the word “Napa” in the name since they wanted to extend presentations geographically outside the area.

“We could have called ourselves the ‘Gypsy Travelers,’” smiled Alane Reif.

All things considered, “it seems to be going pretty well,” Alane Reif said. “We’re still waiting to find out about our nonprofit status.”

Since the Valley Players knew the performances would be limited at the Lincoln — it is a massive 1,200 seat venue — and more costly than renting the Bay Area Stage’s 99-seat home, Alane Reif said everything will have to “go small.”

“Staging wise for the actors, there will be a little bit of an adjustment,” she said.

Soliciting sponsors and perhaps a fundraiser is in the coming year, but right now, the Valley Players focus on this coming production, the co-founders agreed.

Though “Anton” “is not a hard sell, some people know it, it’s not known by the world at large,” said Alane Reif. “Some (theater companies) get to the point where people go to see anything they do. We’re not at that point yet.”

And, though “Anton” is an all-women’s cast, Alane Reif said “that’s not going to be our M.O.”

Not that it’s that easy to find a man — at least a man who can act.

“I think men (actors) are pickier (for roles) than women,” Baumann said. “When you cast a play that needs four men, you might get one to audition. You’ll get the others, but you have to really search.”

If nothing else, “Anton” is the first chance Baumann and Alane Reif get to act together. In the Valley Players’ first production, Alane Reif acted and Baumann directed.

“We’ve known each other since 2002 and it’s not that we didn’t want to be on stage together. It just didn’t work out,” Alane Reif said.