“Storm Reading” Celebration

Storm Reading, courtesy photo.

Storm Reading, courtesy photo.

When Access Theatre’s pioneering play Storm Reading debuted at the Lobero in 1988, it was a ground-breaking piece of theater, which went on to inspire audiences in show after show worldwide for nearly a decade. Part of what made this play so extraordinary is the central character, Neil Marcus, who played himself during the play’s six-year run. Marcus lives with a very visible disability and works hard to represent life in a realistic way that is not focused on the fear of being different.

“The world says ‘You are a spastic quadriplegic.’ I say I’m a dancer. There’s a new movement happening in the world. People are beginning to realize they are more than what they’ve been told they are. The flame is fanned. The fire spreads. Every moment is a new moment to do what’s never been done before,” says Marcus in Storm Reading.

Storm Reading, courtesy photo.

Storm Reading, courtesy photo.

Now a new generation has the opportunity to familiarize itself with the show, when Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation hosts “Celebrating Storm Reading,” an evening with the acclaimed Access Theatre cast (Neil Marcus, Matthew Ingersoll and Kathryn Voice) and Director/Producer Rod Lathim. Along with special guest Anthony Edwards, the cast and creators will return to the Lobero Theatre to take a look back at the impact the play had on audiences and at the sustaining message that art holds the transformative power to heal body and mind. Selected scenes from the show will be staged and scenes from the television version will be screened.

“This year is the 30th anniversary of the debut of Storm Reading,” says Lathim, founder and artistic director of the award-winning theatre company, Access Theatre, from 1979-1996. “Storm Reading was unique because it was created here in Santa Barbara and went on to tour internationally.”

Storm Reading, courtesy photo.

Storm Reading, courtesy photo.

Storm Reading went on to tour through 20 states in the USA, as well as Canada and England over six years, and it garnered recognition from several luminaries in the entertainment world. Maria Shriver interviewed Marcus on The Today Show, and Linda Wertheimer featured him on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” Storm Reading was performed as part of the NBC TV Special “From the Heart” at the Kennedy Center with Access Theatre Honorary Board Member Michael Douglas.

Don’t miss “Celebrating Storm Reading” at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara) on Friday, September 21 at 7 p.m. A VIP reception begins at 5:30 pm. For tickets and more information, visit cottagehealth.org/crhevent.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on September 19, 2018.

A passion for philanthropy

New consulting ventures offer nonprofit groups much more than the sum of their parts


The fabric of Santa Barbara’s intricately embroidered nonprofit community has some new embellishments in its design, as two consulting groups have recently announced their formations: The Crandell Company and Resource Innovators. Continue reading

Backstory: Behind the Scenes of “Citizen McCaw”

Citizen McCawThe implosion of the Santa Barbara News-Press newsroom 18 months ago sparked a labor battle, which led to the departure of dozens of staffers, the creation of a union, and a swarm of legal actions. Now the story is reaching the big screen, with the March 7th world premiere of Citizen McCaw, a full-length documentary examination of the past year and a half at the local daily and its effect on the community.

For the film’s co-producers–Rod Lathim, Charles Minsky, Peter Seaman and Sam Tyler, all locals–the project has been a time-consuming, pro bono, labor of love.

Asked what made them decide the events at the News-Press would make a good topic for a documentary, Tyler said, “It’s a great story. … You have a newspaper, you have a community, you have the courts, you have national voices, national interests, and they are all involved in this really bizarre and very, very unusual meltdown of a hometown daily paper. … You have a wealthy woman. You have her boyfriend, you have people quitting into an uncertain job market, you have community protesters, and you have judges and lawyers. I mean it’s just a wild, crazy scene, and all of the elements of a really interesting story.”

It was Tyler, the producer of documentaries such as In Search of Excellence and Good to Great, who got the ball rolling.

“He called me up one day and we had coffee and he mentioned it was a shame what was going on with the News-Press and wouldn’t it be great if we made a documentary about it? I could tell he was passionate about it, and it turned out, so was I,” said Minsky, director of photography for films such as Pretty Woman and The Producers. “What has happened to the News-Press hit me hard. I like getting up and reading the paper every morning and we had a very good paper here, before all this happened. So I guess I was a little mad as well, and wanted to find out what everyone else thought about our situation.”

“You can’t write this stuff. … If you made up all this stuff, people would go ‘Oh, c’mon, you’re trying too hard to come up with something,'” said Lathim, a fourth generation Santa Barbara native who founded Access Theatre and spearheaded development of the Marjorie Luke Theatre. “They are writing the story. It’s not our story, although we are a part of it because we live here. … Another reason why we’re doing it is that whether we want to be part of the story or not, we are because we’re Santa Barbara residents. We care about our community. We want to know what the news is and we want to make sure that people are treated fairly and that we can trust our news and get our news in places where it’s trustworthy.”

“Personally, I got angry every time I went to the end of my driveway here in Carpinteria and picked up my News-Press. I’d been doing that every morning for the last 15 years and, like a lot of people in Santa Barbara, got very attached to the paper and its writers. Suddenly everything changed. Where’d Barney Brantingham go? John Zant? Melinda Burns? What the hell happened to the paper I used to know?” said Seaman, writer of films such as Shrek the Third and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. “So that’s where the interest started for me. Plus I knew Sam Tyler and Rod Lathim and Chuck Minsky, and their own interest in doing the film fed mine.”

The story is told in a timeline, started with Thomas Storke and the history of the News-Press, and then on through Wendy McCaw’s reign. “What’s happened here in Santa Barbara is a cautionary tale for comparable issues potentially around the country,” said Tyler. “It hasn’t exploded this way anywhere else, When Rupert Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal, ” there wasn’t one-hundredth of the smoke around there that there is here in this inferno around Santa Barbara. They’re comparable issues.”

While the documentarians are clearly passionate about their subject, “we don’t insert ourselves in this film. We never intended to and we didn’t,” said Lathim. “The story is told onscreen by the people involved in the story. Our role in this really is to piece all the pieces of the puzzle together.”

Those pieces include interviews with national leaders in journalism, such as Washington Post Executive editor Ben Bradlee, former NBC News reporter Sander Vanocur, and Harvard’s Alex Jones. The ex-News-Press staffers are represented, as is McCaw, although not willingly.

“She refused half a dozen requests for interviews, had her lawyer send us four nasty letters and subpoenaed our footage,” said Tyler. With that caveat, the filmmakers insist her point-of-view is still represented. “I think she’s probably in it six times herself, her own words in black and white, put fairly up in context representing her point of view,” he said. “She actually appears speaking a couple of times, and her lawyers are in two or three times. So she has at least a dozen presentations of her point of view in this film, directly countering the other. Like Jerry Roberts said, ‘I quit because of ethics,’ Wendy McCaw said, ‘No he didn’t. That’s a lot of bull.’ What goes on here is the same thing that goes on in newsrooms everywhere. I mean viewers make up their own minds.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on March 1, 2008.

A Day to Dream

To help celebrate a decade of making dreams come true for terminally ill adults, the Dream Foundation invites the community to spend a whimsical day in Dreamland.

On July 24, the Santa Barbara Zoo will be transformed a fanciful getaway where families can spend quality time together while helping to support the foundation, a national nonprofit that is based in Santa Barbara.

Founder Thom Rollerson’s goal with this event was to do something kid-friendly, that’s very accessible for families and really directly reflects the mission of the Dream Foundation: to enhance the quality of life for individuals and families battling terminal illnesses. He had always wanted to do something that got those people together again with the people in Santa Barbara who made the Dream Foundation a reality, explained Rod Lathim, who is the event coordinator, artistic director and producer of A Day to Dream.

“When you enter Dreamland it’s kind of like going into Disneyland or some place where you can leave your daily worries outside the gate and come in. And when you’re in there you get to do fun things with your friends and your family and your kids,” said Lathim.

The first thing guests will see is a magical tree of dreams, where they can pick “fruit” containing inspirational quotes and action items. “I call them little mini random acts of kindness that you are encouraged to go do and set out and accomplish while you’re in Dreamland,” said Lathim.

They will also be encouraged to answer the question “What are your dreams and wishes for the community?” Selected answers will read on stage by the Youth Host Committee — William Bermant, Justin Bogart, Carly Burnell, Kelsey Cage, Samia Finnerty, Jennifer Gray, Ryan Halsey, Mackenzie McGonegel, Bridget Mitchell, Nathalie Mitchell, Avery Schwartz, Sara Weiner, Claudio Zungri and Jackie Zupsic — as well as sent to Santa Mayor Marty Blum and the City Council for review and hopefully, inspiration.

The youth hosts (ages 8 to 15) have helped shape the event and will act as Ambassadors to the dream recipient families and guests.

The new NBC series “Three Wishes,” hosted by Amy Grant, will also be there, filming a Dream Foundation recipient, a man with brain cancer from South Dakota who has always wanted to take his family to see the Pacific Ocean.

Other celebrity guests include host Brad Garrett, and Bruce Jenner, Elizabeth Peña, and Harry Shearer, among others.

In addition to “a feast of delectable food and sweets,” and a nonstop lineup of theatre and music from Porch Dogs, Dancing Drums and Boxtales Theatre Company, guests will also be able to visit “Swamette,” a seer and interpreter of dreams; the Flower Empower Emporium, which echoes the Dream Foundation’s volunteer program delivering donated flower bouquets to people battling catastrophic illnesses; a Haberdashery where guests can create fanciful hats; and the Dream Journey Pavilion, featuring massages and face painting; as well as learn hip hop moves with MTV choreographer and dancer Cris Judd.

“The cool thing is that once you’re in, the ticket price ($29.50/$15.50) includes everything,” said Lathim.

The sets, inspired in part by Dr. Seuss, also sound very cool.

“I wanted to do something where you walk in and you’re enchanted and enticed and there’s something fun for adults as well as kids,” said Lathim crediting his “great committee (co-chaired by Clay Dickens and Sara Lytle) for really rolling up their sleeves and getting paint under their fingernails.”

The results should be truly dreamy indeed.

Tickets for A Day to Dream, which takes place at the Santa Barbara Zoo on July 24 from 2:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., are $29.50 for adults and $15.50 for children 12 and under. Tickets are available at the Lobero Theatre Box Office, 963.0761, until July 23, and then in the lobby of the Mar Monte Hotel (across from the zoo) on the day of the event.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on July 14, 2005.