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This Day in My History


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Living with the Fallas
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Lynn's Visit

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25 March 2006

Volunteerism makes the world go 'round.  Where would we be without selfless people who are willing to give of their time to help somebody else, without any salary, working long, hard hours with little recompense other than the satisfaction of helping some person or entity.

There are many causes that benefit mankind world wide--people who build houses for Habitat for Humanity, or who travel around the world to work with refugees, who help women in Darfur, who set up schools where children have no schools, who rescue dogs in New Orleans or make countless trips down south with supplies for those whose homes were destroyed in the aftermath of Katrina.

Then there are people who work closer to home.  They work for hospice, or with the homeless, or with those with AIDS.  We have our share of volunteer groups here in Davis, including Citizens Who Care, which provide social support services for older adults and their family caregivers.

Community theatre would not exist without volunteers.  I think of Walt who began volunteering as a father working with his kids to "put on a show" in the "barn" they had found (the Veterans Memorial Theatre).  Out of helping the kids nail together a few pieces of wood grew half a lifetime of building castles in England, gondolas in Venice, fairy glades, British ships, etc., etc., etc. 

Another class of theatre volunteers are those people (usually women) who work tirelessly to build costumes for productions.  Several months ago, I interviewed a woman named Jean Henderson, who has been the veritable soul of the Davis Musical Theatre Company (DMTC), a woman who has designed and built costumes for the past 12 years.  This includes working long hours into the night, working at getting the look just right (and I almost always give her high marks for her costumes when I write a review).  When show is finished, she takes all the costumes home, lays them out in her driveway and separates the cleaning from the washing. The washing goes to her laundry room, the dry cleaning goes to the cleaner.  Then she starts it all over again for the next show.

Where would theatre be without women like Jean Henderson, whose face is probably unfamiliar to most of the people in the audience.

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Jean Henderson
(Photo by Marc Valdez of DMTC)

Yesterday I interviewed another such volunteer.  

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Barbara Jackson, now my mother's age, designed and costumed shows for many theatre groups, including the Davis Comic Opera Company and the Sacramento Opera, for over 40 years.  She is one of the last remaining members of what was once the very active Davis Costume Guild, a group of women who built costumes for any theatre group that asked them.  (Charlotte French is another--I will be interviewing her on Sunday.)

As someone who can't sew on a button, I hold women like Jean Henderson, Barbara Jackson, and Charlotte French in such incredibly high esteem.   Barbara's first theatre costume was for Brigadoon, when they brought her a bolt of cloth and a photo of someone wearing what they wanted.

"No pattern?" she asked.

No pattern.  She figured out how to do it looking at the photo.  I can't figure out how to dress myself properly, practically, and here she could make a pleated dancer's costume from a 2" x 3" photograph!

The women worked for years, and at some point, realizing that they needed someplace to put the collection of costumes that had been accumulating in their garages and attics, they raised money to build their very own building, on land loaned by the city (on the condition that when the day came that the building would no longer be needed, it would revert to the city)

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The building was named for Marinka Phaff, who was the first city costumer, a woman who immigrated from Russia and who was the only member of the Costume Guild who actually had costume-making experience.

The whole story of this organization was, I discovered as I interviewed Barbara Jackson, another wonderful tale of people who saw a need and filled it--for decades, as volunteers. 

As we left the costume shop today, where there was a photo-session for pictures to accompany my article, Barbara was telling me that the Davis Comic Opera Company would not have existed without Walt's work on sets for all these years.  It goes without saying that this selfless woman is another person who made more than a significant impact on local theatre.

People think it's so easy to "get a barn and put on a show," but without the support people who work in the background.   Without the Walts, without the Barbara Jacksons and Jean Hendersons, there would be far less theatre in this world, and how much less rich we would all be for it.


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Can Can dancers from The Merry Widow.
("There were 90 yards of material in each skirt," remembers Barbara Jackson)


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