Founders Ehrling Pohls, left, Donovan Marley, Sue Pohls, Judy Guder, Robert Raleigh, Cathleen Menteer stand on stage at Solvang Festival Theater.
Founders Ehrling Pohls, left, Donovan Marley, Sue Pohls, Judy Guder, Robert Raleigh, Cathleen Menteer. Credit: Courtesy photo

Community members packed the stage on Nov. 2 to honor the 29 founders of the Solvang Festival Theater. Six of the founders attended.

Among the honored attendees was Donovan Marley, the artistic director of Pacific Conservatory Theater (PCPA) in the early 1970s. As a driving force, along with Solvang business leaders, Marley inspired the small community in the Santa Ynez Valley to construct a 700-seat outdoor theater.

Marley’s achievement led to an almost 50-year relationship between Solvang Theaterfest and PCPA. The result has been continuous summer theater productions at the theater since 1974 for a total of 3,307 performances and nearly 1.4 million patrons entering the gates.

Marley said the theater had a major impact on many performers who have gone on to television, films and Broadway, thus establishing a national reputation for Solvang Festival Theater.

In anticipation of Solvang Theaterfest’s upcoming 50th anniversary in 2024, the gathering brought together founders and their guests. “The founders made a long-lasting venue for generations to enjoy,” said one guest.

Erling Pohls, one of the theater’s general contractors, who attended with his wife Sue, shared stories about the resourcefulness and creativity of the project.

Judy (Lewellen) Guder, who lives in Seattle, came back to acknowledge the generosity of the community and to see old friends. Descendants of the founders also offered vivid memories of that period.

In recognition of the founders’ contributions to the theater, bronze plaques bearing their names will be placed on the new Copenhagen blue theater seats.

For more about putting a name plaque on a seat to honor other individuals, or to be part of the theater legacy, visit the Solvang Theaterfest website, email or call 805-686-1789.

Solvang Theaterfest is the 501 (c) (3) nonprofit corporation that owns and operates Solvang Festival Theater. It is managed by an all-volunteer board of directors.

For more information, contact Solvang Theaterfest executive director Scott Coe at