Coronado Playhouse (CPH) has a long standing, rich history in the community as well as in the larger San Diego community as the longest continuous running community theatre in San Diego County with quality productions since 1940. The LA Times acclaimed it the longest continuous running playhouse on the West Coast. A qualified 501 (C) 3 non-profit organization, it is managed and plays are produced mostly by volunteers, another remarkable feature.
Barron Henzel, president emeritus on the board of directors, has played a continuing role in the success of the playhouse. As actor, producer, board member since 2010, president 2012 - 2020, set designer and builder, he has seen the progression of the CPH and its valued position in the community. He says the community’s supportive role since 1946, when they secured a site, is responsible for the playhouse’s longevity. The playhouse “has been a testament of the community, being part of the community.”
At its inception, when the early performances were at the high school, the actors were local, and the tradition of seeking Coronado talent has continued. “It was all about local performers and trying to get an avenue for local performers…. The playhouse actually became a place for local performers to practice their craft.” The actors are, also, volunteers.
The board, which acts as the artistic director of the playhouse, has a committee to review submissions. It is currently seeking submissions for the 2023 season. ”Independent directors, producers, actors will come to us and say, ‘Oh, we want to pitch this show,’” said Henzel. “We ask for some parameters, if they have teams involved.” They present a play and their plan for its production. We do six main plays a year, and then also we do a couple, I say a handful, of special performances. Those might be your concerts or cabarets that we sprinkle in through the year.”
The schedule aims at variety, including some musicals which are popular, a classic to go in the free classic series slot, and dramas.
Henzel praises the board committee for their work in making the selections. Since the playhouse does not develop shows, they rely on interested people from the community to present their ideas. People return with new plays, but they like to offer opportunities for new directors and new producers, also. Once selected, the staff supports the production to make it successful with the community.
Henzel is proud of the reputation and the over 500 productions they have presented to the community. “We give the community an opportunity to see some pretty great productions, I think, and we do our best to make sure that happens year after year.”
The 2022 season started with “The SpongeBob Musical,” which ends Feb. 20, followed by “Murder on the Orient Express.”
In the lineup this year is the free classic production “Two Gentlemen Rock Verona” based on Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” which has a debut director. The San Diego premiere starts July 15. Two other new directors will be for “Misbehaving” and “Big Fish.”
Seeking volunteer actors to produce a quality production is a challenge. “It is challenging to get actors and actresses that you think are qualified. We try to make sure that we get actors that reflect the community. We like to get some diversity. We like to get good talent, but to be honest, I love bringing in new actors. We’ve had actors on our stage that have been award-winning in many different ways, incredibly seasoned actors, and I find when you put those elements together, there’s so much learning on everyone’s part, as far as helping you up your game as an actor, and also what you can learn from everyone around you. So we welcome anybody and everybody. In fact, we encourage people, especially those that may not seem to actually fit a traditional character. We really ask people to come in and see what the plans could offer you.”
Known for “some really wonderful, over the top musicals,” Henzel says the search for singers might be more popular than the call for dramatic roles. Although their reputation may reside with musicals, CPH meets the test in finding actors for the “dramas and mysteries and things that may be a little nontraditional, so we try to get people who can do all those things, and that’s not always the easiest.”
Asked about a play that pops into his mind immediately as being special, Henzel reflects, “‘The Year with Frog and Toad,’ and that might be a little selfish. I happen to play one of the roles, and it was such a rewarding experience because we had the front of the stage. We let the family, the children, come up, and they would see it from the stage. They would just be so engaged, and they’re telling a story for them, but also the production values and the comedy and the relevancy of it. I think it hit everybody. Adults and kids loved it. That was a really rewarding thing. It’s one of the shows that we do that’s for families. It’s not really a kid’s show, but it’s a show that … would appeal to families with kids or adults of all ages, and so people really love that. That was really fun.”
Last year was officially the 75th anniversary of the playhouse, but Covid shutdowns altered the big plans. A cabaret of songs celebration in October, love songs from past shows, is scheduled with hopes that by then people can return to the playhouse in full force. “It’ll give us an opportunity to honor tons of shows without actually having to spend the time to do shows, but to bring back a lot of old familiar faces, giving an opportunity for some new people to sing. We’re looking at several hours of just a really feel-good nostalgic look back through songs.”
With such a rich history over 75 years, obstacles have arisen that could have terminated the continuation of CPH without the strong community support: World War II and the loss of their space in 2003 being the major ones. The city, however, offered them a new facility to rent. “We’ve come through it and been able to do shows every year since the 40s, so we definitely have a long history of people that have been really active supporters of the Playhouse, not only under the Playhouse’s umbrella, but even our auxiliary organizations that have been here through the years to help raise money.”
The CPH is located at 1835 Strand Way, coronadoplayhouse.org; 619-435-4856.