Live theatre in Stockton. It began with the Gold Rush! First it was the Stockton Theatre for the rough and tumble sailors and miners of 1853. In 1911, when folks became more civilized, the great Sarah Bernhardt performed “La Dam Aux Camelias” at Yosemite Theatre. In 1923, the Masonic Music Hall opened a large auditorium on its top floor — all for live theatre!
“Another offspring of the drama was born last night at Madison School Auditorium and everyone concerned is ‘doing nicely’.”
— The Stockton Record
It was fall 1950. Frank Jones, librarian, and Clyde Nielsen, banker, led theatre enthusiasts in an enterprise they called Stockton Civic Theatre. Their first show, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, was performed at Madison School Auditorium.
They were very successful. By 1952 they had bought the old Zion Lutheran Church at Willow and Monroe and turned it into a 197-seat theatre. In 1954 they incorporated as a California nonprofit corporation. Shows were well received, but unknown problems were brewing.
In 1962, a judge ordered that the theatre didn’t qualify as a tax exempt nonprofit, but on behalf of SCT, a feisty local attorney named Fred Bollinger declared war on the system. Finally, in 1967, the California Supreme Court ruled for the theatre in Stockton Civic Theatre v. Board of Supervisors, setting a precedent that today benefits all community theaters in America.
In 1973, John Falls, President of the Board, appointed Donald Lamond as Chief Planner. The building at Willow and Monroe was falling apart, and Dr. Lamond advocated a new home for SCT.
In 1974, a local developer offered free land with construction at cost in the new Venetian Bridges development, just off March Lane at Venezia and Rosemarie. SCT President Don Lamond put John Falls in charge of fundraising. The Stockton Record announced the construction of a 300-seat facility to begin June 10, 1980. The beautiful new Rosemarie Lane theatre opened its first Season, 1980, with its 166th main stage production, Chapter Two, directed by Nick Elliott.
Times seem good, but it’s never easy. Money is scarce, but persistence pays and strong leadership emerges. In 1996, founder Clyde Nielsen generously donated funds to retire the mortgage, Greg Morales was hired as the first Producing Director, later followed by Paul Bengston. Now, SCT has a staff of five.
Live theatre today? Under Board President Joe Smith and Artistic Director Dennis Beasley, major productions continue to become huge hits! Frank Jones and Clyde Nielsen’s Stockton Civic Theatre — alive and well in the 21st Century!