At Go-Fame, a community has come together to teach the next generation the art of theater
Showbiz isn’t all glitz and glamour, especially behind the scenes (or) especially when you work for free.
The last Saturday before opening weekend, Elaine and Tom Zofrea’s home in Long Beach is a busy work force of volunteers.
One of Go-Fame’s founders and artistic director, Elaine Zofrea, is hurriedly giving directions to four busy-bee volunteers humming around the room, trying to finish the costumes for next weekend’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie” at the newly renovated University Theater at Cal State Long Beach.
The studio office is filled with pieces of fabric that need to be sewn together, costumes that need to be organized and assigned, props, and a guy in the corner intently going over lines by himself.
He never looks up; he only found out last week he is playing two roles in the musical.
There is an air about the room of too many things to get done in so little time.
It’s crunch time.
“Funny enough the building of the set happens all in my backyard,” said Zofrea.
There isn’t much chatter, just the sounds of power tools, sawing and hammering of the intricate sets in the backyard and alley, designed by Elaine’s husband Tom, a senior art director for Walt Disney Creative Entertainment.
The set is built over the course of three weekends because the volunteers, most of whom are the parents of kids in the show, have to get back to their jobs during the week.
“They go and they paint, and they go and they paint,” Tom says, “and when the sets come out during the show, the parents say ‘hey, I did that!’ ”
The parents feel involved. Accordingly, the program uses volunteers to build the sets to keep the budget at bay.
“It doesn’t save us money, it would probably be cheaper to just rent someone else’s set, but we like to think we’re doing something different than other productions,” Elaine says.
The sets are built in a format that can fit through the doors of the theater. On the Wednesday night before opening weekend, all the pieces will be transported in trucks loaned by people in the community and put together like a large jigsaw puzzle in the University theater.
Go-Fame was originally an afterschool drama program started by Zofrea and Kathy McGuire, but grew into a four-show season with a winter class session and summer camp that has been around for 12 years.
It started when Elaine and Kathy’s daughters began doing theater at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center when they were in third grade. Both daughters were cast in plays for two years there, but then the company stopped doing plays. Their daughters and some other kids in the community wanted to continue doing theater, so Kathy, Elaine and some other mothers decided to produce plays for third through fifth graders at Minnie Gant Elementary School.
“It was interesting because it was pretty much a group of mothers that all had some experience in theater; they were either currently working in theater or had worked in the theater,” says Zofrea.
As the kids aged out of the program after fifth grade and wanted to continue to do theater, Zofrea and McGuire decided to start an outside program.
The age group at Go-Fame is from 8 to 18 years old.
“There aren’t a lot of companies that just do children’s theater,” Zofrea says.
For community building, part of the requirements for the kids to be in the show is that their parents have to volunteer hours, or they can buy out. But very few parents buy out.
According to McGuire, it takes 75 yards of fabric, 30 gallons of paint, more than 2,500 volunteer hours – including 700 hours creating costumes – and 300 hours constructing sets.
She knows those numbers by heart; she’s the business side of Go-Fame. So, that means parents learn to use sewing machines to make costumes or grab a hammer and nails to build sets.
“Two of Go-Fame’s goals are to create a community of theater supporters and to keep show participation affordable,” McGuire says. “Our volunteer program supports both of those goals. In addition, parents have the chance to learn new skills, make friends and take pride in the final product.”
“The parents are fascinated about it, it’s like when your child chooses a sport that you don’t know anything about, you’re going to find out all that you can,” says Zofrea.
For a lot of these kids, this is their sport.
Zofrea wants the kids to a have a good experience and teach them how to do plays the professional way. She worked Off Broadway and at South Coast Repertory so she doesn’t know how to do it any other way.
“We want the kids to have a good time and to teach them the professional way, because I come from a professional background and I don’t know how to do amateur theater,” she says. “I just kind of skipped that part.”
Zofrea and McGuire have different criteria for each show they produce during the year because they want to offer a variety of ideas and styles for the kids.
“I have never found anything that they were not able to live up to,” Zofrea says. “My expectations are high for them to behave like professionals.”
What students learn in an intro to theater class in college is what the kids learn in this program.
“It isn’t our goal to create professional theater people, but it’s a place to have fun, and sometimes it’s their relaxation,” Zofrea says.
This summer, they are doing the classic “Bye Bye Birdie.” For those who don’t know the plot of “Bye Bye Birdie,” it’s about the generation gap and an Elvis Presley-like singer getting ready to go into the Army. An uptight Mr. MacAfee just doesn’t understand what’s the matter with kids today. The musical has an estimated running time of two hours with one intermission.
Performances for “Bye Bye Birdie,” are Saturdays July 9 and 16, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sundays July 10 and 17 at 2 p.m. Ticket prices are $15 for the premium reserved rows A through F, and $12 for general admission rows G-R. The box office will open 45 minutes prior to showtime.