Above, (left) Jennifer Skutley and (right) Bethany Skutley Blackshear hold the award recognizing the devotion of their late mother Suzi Skutley to the Santa Paula Theater Center. Right photo, Leslie Nichols, a producer, director, actress and former longtime SPTC board president, holds one of her Four Star Theater Alliance awards.

SPTC, late theater devotee Skutley lauded by Four Star Theater Alliance

January 29, 2014
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly 

Santa Paula Times 

Santa Paula Theater Center productions were lauded along with those of Four Star Theater Alliance members at an awards ceremony that also honored the late Suzi Skutley, a longtime SPTC supporter.

Skutley, who passed in November at age 64, was recognized with the Judges Choice: Lifetime of Service & Support to Ventura County Theatre Community - SPTC at the gala held January 19 at High Street Art Center in Moorpark.

The Four Star Theater Alliance represents six Ventura County non-union theaters that last year staged 34 productions, drawing thousands of patrons to enjoy everything from dramas and comedies to musicals and classics.

Leslie Nichols of Santa Paula, a producer, director, actor and longtime former chair of the SPTC, was a founder of the Alliance, whose first honors-then as now reminiscent of the Tony Awards- were awarded in 2008.

Three independent judges from the other theaters must attend all of a theater’s productions to decide which are the most “Outstanding” (rather than “Best”). 

“I appreciate the fact that we can honor each other,” said Nichols.

Initially the Alliance was all about “promoting the spirit of camaraderie, cooperation and mutual respect,” but in the last six years it has come to mean so much more.

“All the boats have risen,” Nichols said, citing production values, sharing of props and talent among the theaters and simply getting to know each other. “It’s also kind of a spur that people are coming and evaluating each other,” she added.

Nichols is pleased “There is so much theater in Ventura County, tons more than the six in the Alliance.” 

Alliance members have a “commonality” in “purpose, in a publicized season of a certain length and a building we have to take care of,” whether by virtue of ownership or regular use.

And of course, to “Keep the theater afloat,” for the enjoyment of patrons and those devoted to the stage alike.

Overall, “We can sit at the table and know what the other person is talking about. Part of the ongoing and continually rising success of the Santa Paula Theater Center is its participation within the Alliance.

“Everybody is getting better,” said Nichols. “It really is wonderful.”

Founded in the mid-1980s in a church basement and now housed at the historic former Ebell Clubhouse, the SPTC is an acknowledged cultural leader that draws visitors to Santa Paula whose theater experience - as with the locals - often includes in-town dining.

Said Nichols, “It’s very advantageous for us to have even more viable restaurants than we had a few years ago, theater goers want to go to Garman’s, listen to music at Mupu Grill or stop at Rabalais as well as enjoy the great Mexican restaurants Santa Paula is famed for.”

Nichols described Skutley, whose daughters Bethany Blackshear and Jennifer Skutley accepted their mother’s award at the ceremony, as “The glue of the theater, she was that kind of member of our theater community.”

For more than two decades Skutley worked behind the scenes at the theater and was renowned for leading audience laughter. 

“Although she certainly would have enjoyed the recognition if you handed it to her on a platter, most of all what she did was because it was enjoyable to her.

“She made it fun, she participated because it made her feel good and also because she felt it was a valuable place to invest her time for the community. 

“It made her feel good to participate,” said Nichols, “to be a backbone in what she considered a valuable organization.”

When it comes to the annual Alliance awards the Outstanding categories are familiar: lead and featured performers, direction, choreography and design for sets, sound, lighting, costumes and a wild card category-Judges Choice.

The amazing variety and talent drawn to local live theater is evident in the most Outstanding Productions of each theater. 

Santa Paula Theater Center’s  “Second Samuel,” produced by Leslie Nichols and Fred Helsel, was a winner in three other categories. Its second most honored production was “In the Next Room.”

Four Star Theater Alliance Awards taken home by SPTC were: Outstanding Lead Performance Male, Eric Mello “At Long Last Leo”; Outstanding Lead Performance Female, Peggy Steketee “Second Samuel”; Outstanding Featured Performance Male, Seth Oserin “Death of a Salesman”; Outstanding Featured Performance Female, Tosca Minotto “In the Next Room”; Outstanding Set Design, Seth Kamenow “Second Samuel”; Outstanding Sound Design, Rich Smith “Improvised Music in Arcadia”; Outstanding Lighting Design, Gary Richardson “In the Next Room”; Outstanding Costume Design, Lori Lee Gordon “In the Next Room”.

Outstanding Direction was awarded to Fred Helsel for “Second Samuel” which also garnered the longtime SPTC veteran the Outstanding Overall Production Award for him and Nichols.

The full list of honorees is on the Four Star Theater Alliance’s Facebook page.

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