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Meet Liz Lydic of California Community Theatre

Today we’d like to introduce you to Liz Lydic.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up participating in community theatre (as well as theatre in Junior High and High School), majored in Theatre in college, and have been involved in theatre in a variety of ways – backstage, onstage, selling tickets, volunteering, you name it. I pursued acting and worked in theatre administration for some of the bigger theatres in the U.S. But I realized everything I was learning and doing with producing theatre was driving me back to my roots – community theatre. I believe community theatre changes lives, and I felt that I had some part (no pun intended) in honoring and supporting community theatre in unique ways. I became involved with a national organization, American Association of Community Theatre (AACT), which is not only a great group, but also allowed me to maintain involvement in theatre without just performing, or just being involved with a single theatre group. It also gave me a great perspective of the issues and similarities of community theatre all over the nation. I’ve been involved with AACT for about five years, and have sat on the Board of Directors for the past three. Board Membership with AACT connected me with theatres in California, and provided me a bigger perspective and a decent amount of street credit. I started to get to know theatres in the state, and listened when they said what they needed. Other states do well with organized associations where theatres get together regularly (or mandatorily) and talk shop, share ideas, and the like. I had a feeling that wouldn’t fly in CA, where distance and busyness rue the day. I also know the financial challenges community theatres face, and even a modest fee to participate in a network or group could be a deal breaker.

At an event, I put together for community theatres on the Central Coast to meet and chat and learn about AACT, I was amazed at the fact that many of them were not aware of each other’s groups – we’re talking about the small world of community theatre, small towns, and only about a 50 mile radius. They thrived on the chance to talk about their issues and needs and learn how much they have in common. Following a conversation with one of the attendees at that event, the idea of California Community Theatre took shape.

I wanted a chance for community theatres in the state to know about one another, share ideas, have a voice, ask questions, and get inspired on many levels. Most areas or regions have or have had some incarnation of an alliance or group of local theatres getting together for a similar purpose. The folks putting those groups together – often theatre producers and directors – are busy with their own theatres or projects, and a lot of time the focus becomes about promoting shows, or collaborating in a marketing project that benefited each theatre, for example. Time restraints and resources make it so hard for smaller theatres to get to explore bigger ideas, new programs or methods, or to evaluate what they are currently doing and ways to improve. And, asking theatre leaders for another evening of their week to attend a meeting is a huge challenge.

I wanted to give community theatres solutions. I wanted to facilitate their questions (the style of the website and participating actually means little of me providing ‘recipes for success,’ but rather posing questions, requesting information, and then sharing it with the group in a useful manner), so they could spend their time producing their own theatre, and less grasping to get responses. And I wanted membership to be free.

So, for about 4 months toward the end of 2015, I made a plan, including a schedule of how I would maintain the site and work on it pretty much daily; and I reached out to AACT member organizations in CA for feedback and to create my first membership base. I began publishing articles and began featuring specific theatres monthly; reaching out to members for responses to surveys; and started shaping my bigger goals at the same time – a book proposal on community theatres, a California Community Theatre conference, and an online museum. I bought a website name and got familiar with working on a site; over the past 2 years, I’ve finally discovered how to work smarter not harder in mapping out and formatting the content. I’ve learned what works and doesn’t work (and I know that will evolve forever), and learned what fat to cut, and what to focus on to keep the momentum.

The website has allowed me to stay involved in community theatre without devoting myself and time to one single organization or its schedule (I have a completely different day job, a family, and a side job, so extra time is not particularly in abundance at this stage of my life). California Community Theatre now has over 70 members, has held its first conference (in May this year, in Rancho Mirage), and has published several articles on topics from grant funding to technical space organization. I’m currently planning next year’s conference; and working on several other projects, including webinars for members, and a study on the significance of community theatre on its participants, the results of which members can use for funding purposes.

Getting to know community theatres in California and the people who are passionately running them is a true gift.

Has it been a smooth road?
The good news for me is that though I have high hopes and expectations for myself and the site, this is not a ‘risky’ business endeavor for myself or anyone else. Because membership is free, and there is not a goal to generate income from the website, my benchmarks for success are less tangible. On one hand, creating a website and resource group from scratch – basically learning both technical skills for website creation, as well as putting myself out there as a type of ‘leader’ – have been successful on many levels.

As with so many activities these days, the struggle will probably always be participation. I have some wonderful members who are very involved and dedicated toward contributing to the site, responding to questions, providing content – the site relies on this. But of course, it’s a small percentage of my actual members. I can’t quite gauge how folks are using the site and what they find helpful. In an ideal world, California Community Theatre would be the go-to for all community theatres in the state, where they find the inspiration they need to solve problems, where they know and help one another, and where they feel connected to like-minded people. There’s a long way to go in making that vision a reality, but again, it’s a goal AND a tall order for many organizations these days.

The book proposal I spent a great deal of time creating earlier this year (with the help of many members who provided content) was denied; I’ve had a difficult time making connections to resources outside my inner circle for folks to collaborate with (on webinars, for example); and of course, there’s never enough time in the day to devote to the site as I’d like. These are all specific struggles I’ve experienced with the site since its inception.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with California Community Theatre – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
California Community Theatre is an online resource group for organizations and individuals involved with community and Civic theatres in the state of California. The goal is to increase awareness and create a connection between the folks in the Golden State who are doing the same thing: celebrating the joy of community theatre.

What sets the site apart from other similar organizations is its free membership; its focus on asking members to share ideas (rather than providing a one-sided point of view or advice); and its inclusiveness to members by its online participation, rather than participation in-person at meetings or gatherings (though we do host annual conferences). I try to focus on ‘pushing’ theatres to think outside the operation-type business that takes so much time. Surveys and articles are beginning to focus on asking members to evaluate their practices and activities and ensure they are doing those things with purpose – purpose that works for them, their theatre, and their mission.

I’m proud of the members who have joined and who participate, in their trust of the site, and of the work they are doing. I’m proud of California Community Theatre’s accessibility. I’m proud of the site’s vision to create awareness of community theatres, and its hope to bring a voice to smaller theatres that are producing great work and have a significant place in their community’s history. And, I’m proud of the chance to get the word out, with this interview and SD Voyager Magazine. Thank you!

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
Though I live in LA, I love San Diego! California Community Theatre has wonderful members from the greater San Diego area: Coronado Playhouse in Coronado; Lake San Marcos Players in San Marcos; Onstage Playhouse in Chula Vista; Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa; Point Loma Playhouse in Point Loma; PowPAC in Poway; The Star Theatre in Oceanside; and even a member theatre in Baja, InnovaTeatro.

There is not only great work coming from these theatres, but many of them sell out shows on a regular basis. That means areas in San Diego have great support for community theatre. Programs at these member theatres include internships, milestone anniversary celebrations, youth/education programs, and unique productions, such as Radio Shows.

San Diego is a great place to visit for its culture, weather, outdoor activities, and its community theatre!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Omar Yermalova
San Marcos Players
Lamplighters Community Theatre
Stacy Hennon Stone

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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