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Rubicon Theatre Brings Magic to Stage

Live theater is Ventura company's specialty, but it gives starring role to the education of youth actors

The theater — meaning live performances on the stage — was long ago pronounced a “fabulous invalid” with a tenuous future, but it is alive and thriving at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura.

Karyl Lynn Burns and her husband, Jim O'Neil, are co-founders of Ventura's Rubicon Theatre. She's the theater's producing artistic director and he's the artistic director.
Karyl Lynn Burns and her husband, Jim O’Neil, are co-founders of Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre. She’s the theater’s producing artistic director and he’s the artistic director. (Rod Lathim photo)

Karyl Lynn Burns, co-artistic director of the company, said in a recent interview that although the economic downturn has “hugely impacted” the arts world in the short run, the theater as an institution will go on. “I think that theater is eternal,” she said.

“It began with people around a fire, listening to stories. Then it was made a part of worship,” Burns said. “As long as people have stories to share and futures to dream about, there will be theater.”

Burns and her husband, James O’Neil, founded Rubicon Theatre 11 years ago. Before setting up shop in Ventura, the two were active in Santa Barbara stage work, including the Ensemble Theatre at the historic Alhecama.

The Rubicon is located at 1006 E. Main St., and seats 175 people on the main floor. An additional 20 seats are located in a new VIP suite, with leather chairs, beverage service and hors d’oeuvres.

The musical Godspell just finished a run at the Rubicon, and now the company is preparing its new show, Daddy Long Legs, a staged version of the beloved book by Jean Webster, the grand-niece of Mark Twain.

“It’s a world premiere, and it will preview on Oct. 14, and run through Nov. 8,’’ Burns said. Daddy Long Legs was adapted for the stage with a book by John Caird and music and lyrics by Paul Gordon.

While live theater presentations are the Rubicon’s main purpose, the theater group has a significant commitment to educating young people, Burns said. She stated simply that she and O’Neill regard the Rubicon as “our child,” and the two are dedicated to bringing young people into the profession.

Among the youth-oriented programs at Rubicon are daytime theater and performances in high schools, a summer musical theater camp, summer acting and technical camps, “Shakespeare in the Schools,’’ with company members performing scenes in classrooms, and Rubicon Young Professionals, offering internships to recent college and conservatory graduates.

The Jack Oakie Camp was created in memory of the popular movie actor, Burns said. Each summer, auditions are held and 30 to 40 young people are chosen to take part in the four-week intensive program.

“Under the direction of Brian McDonald, Rubicon’s education director, students are on-site six days a week, six hours a day, to focus on the process and performance of musical theater in a professional setting,’’ according to a company mission statement. This summer’s production of Godspell was a product of the Jack Oakie Camp.

Like most small theater companies, Rubicon has to scramble for money to keep the show going on.

“It takes a village to support a theater,” Burns said with a laugh. “Forty to 50 percent of our budget comes from ticket sales, but 50 to 60 percent comes from donations.”

Donors include individuals, grant providers and corporations.

“Ventura doesn’t have a large corporate component,” she said, “so we really do rely on personal contributions.”

Rubicon Theatre is one of the nonprofit organizations that receives online fundraising management assistance through givezooks!.

“Givezooks! is such a great way to make a gift, however small,” Burns said.

Click here for more information on the Rubicon Theatre, or to purchase tickets online.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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