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35 Years of Reading Plays

By Peter Arnott

The following article appeared in the Sausalito Historical Society Fall 2012 newsletter, called Moments in Time. 


The year was 1977, and, in Sausalito, there was no organized group producing year-round live theatre.  So Sausalito residents Peter and Ann Arnott, who were both already working in Peter’s commercial production company, decided to create something new: a play-reading group called The Sausalito Players. 

The Players was organized to be an opportunity for lovers of live theatre (who had very little free time) to get up on their feet and perform without having to endure a lot of meetings, and rehearsals, and fuss.  The idea was for the actors to hold scripts in their hands and read the lines on an actual stage with limited costumes, and sets, and props.

This all happened in 1977 because that was the year that Ann Arnott was President of the Sausalito Woman’s Club (SWC).  She raised the idea that perhaps the Club might share the small stage in its famed Julia Morgan-designed clubhouse. Over the years, the SWC had used it for a variety of club-related theatrical and musical functions and, generously agreed to share its facilities with the newborn play-reading group and to have all performances free and open to the public.

The budget was to be covered by annual Players dues of $10 (and even that was optional). Since every actor, director, producer, stage manager, and backstage technical worker was a volunteer and production costs were minimal, a “less-is-more” attitude somehow created abundance including refreshments at intermission.

The Players season has traditionally run from August through June. Over the years, the group has performed nearly 200 plays, from single-actor monologues to full-out Christmas pageants with musicians and a choir.  Almost all shows have been chosen from Broadway-level comedies and dramas covering a variety of subjects and styles.  Even musicals have been presented, but without the music. (Everybody reads, but not everybody sings.)  The actors recite the song lyrics much to the surprised approval of the audience.

In the past, a few proven authors have premiered their original scripts under the Players banner hoping, as in a New York-style “workshop,” to get their show to Broadway. One such Players’ original-script performance attracted a producer from Los Angeles, who was so taken with the Players’ amateur production that he optioned the play from the author and eventually produced it in Hollywood. 

The level of performance in the Sausalito Players rivals that of any “Little Theatre” group. However, there are special perils in having one hand tied up with holding the script while performing certain stage actions. For example, an actor cannot drink from a cup and saucer with one hand, so s/he carries only the cup. Love scenes are even more challenging and often the cause for audience amusement. As the two lovers hug, they circle each other with their script-holding hands and read the dialogue over their beloved’s shoulder or behind their beloved’s back.

Fast dialogue is another hazardous play reading experience because it is so easy to get lost in the script.  And lack of rehearsals contributes to the problem.  A typical production schedule allows for only two or three general rehearsals, a dress rehearsal, and then one actual performance. A classic Players’ anecdote involves the fast and unfinished dialogue of playwright David Mamet.  A male and female actor were speeding along alternating with very short punchy lines inciting audience laughter.  Suddenly the man stopped the play and said in a loud voice to his co-actor, “What page are you on?”  She said, “thirty five.”  He said, “I’m on thirty-six.”  The amused audience broke into applause until the actors sorted it out, and the play went on.  Typically, an audience gets so caught up in the  play that the scripts are forgotten.

Today, the Players perform under the administrative umbrella of the Sausalito Woman’s Club.  In keeping with the past, there are no elections, no President or Board of Directors, just a theatre-wise Woman’s Club Committee that hosts the annual Planning Dinner in August which is open to everyone. At that occasion Players plan the number of shows to be mounted and gather the names of those who volunteer to mount them.  For the 2012-2013 season, the five shows are already accounted for, including the annual Christmas pageant.  But in August of 2013, there’ll be another dinner, another rush of volunteers, another season of plays and another reason to pronounce that theatre is alive and well - and in loving hands - in Sausalito.


The Sausalito Players present “Murder at Rutherford House” at the Sausalito Woman’s Club on Wed., March 27 at 7:30 PM.


Many of the performers listed on this early playbill are still active in the Sausalito Players.

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