In February, Changing Faces Theater Company was preparing for the debut of a comedy murder mystery show to launch their new black box theater in Lodi. Then things went awry, like they did pretty much for everyone.
Even though the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to the debut, Changing Faces Theater Company is finding a way to make the show go on.
Launched in 2002, Changing Faces Theater Company is a non-profit operated by husband and wife team Mike Bartram and Sabrina Willis-Bartram. It was started with a focus on expanding the live theater experience in the area and inspiring a new batch of artists.
"Being a non-profit means that we rely on the support of individuals and community members who want the arts to flourish and believe in us and what we do," Bartram said.
The company's first show was out at a local winery and up until this year CFTC had been performing a summer show at Jessie's Grove Winery in Lodi.
"We did a summer play out there and we thought it would be one and done and it ended up growing from there," Bartram said.
What started primarily with high school students has grown into a summer community theater drawing actors of all ages from the area. The couple co-direct the shows and handle the multitude of tasks that need to be done before a show ever takes the stage. They have expanded their summer show to include components for children between 7 to 12 years that includes classes, camps and a mini show.
"It's a way for younger kids to get their feet wet with theater, without the full-on rigorous rehearsal schedule," Willis-Bartram said.
For some time, they had been longing for a venue that would allow for an expansion of shows and classes. They finally found that spot at a former Zumba studio at 720 W. Lodi Avenue and signed a lease in January.
Eventually, CFTC will offer a season of shows in the black box theater, as well as using it for acting classes, ballroom dance lessons, and they hope a return of the Senior Follies and Lodi's Got Talent shows they staged for the community.
The couple's big plans for the venue and the offerings they will have for the community may have to wait. Until the time comes when they can launch those plans, they will content themselves with more intimate options. They're hopeful they'll be able to start back in the summer with some acting classes and camps for children.
They also wanted to do a performance this summer, but how does a theater company stage a performance when gatherings are taboo? For some companies the answer has been to turn to the online world, but for CFTC the answer harkened back to the days of old when actors brought their shows to the people, rather than people coming to the theater.
"We're putting together a traveling show with a small group of actors that we've worked with before," said Willis-Bartram. "People can order a up a show and we'll come out, set it up and perform it for them and their kids and the neighbors."
The first pop-up play CFTC is staging is a 30-minute version of "Alice in Wonderland" and they are currently scheduling dates for June and July.
"Theater is so much about interacting with other people," Bartram said.
Making sure the show goes on is more than just a financial concern for the couple. It's a passion they share and they are well aware of the impact it can have on people, particularly young children and teenagers. CFTC recently got a donation from a family whose child went through their program years prior and a very sincere thank you note.
"They included a note that said the theater saved their daughter's life," Willis-Bartram said. "She had been going down the wrong path and it helped get her on the right track. It felt really good to know we had made an impact on someone's life."
"Theater can really change lives," Bartram said. "It's welcoming to everybody."
To keep up-to-date with classes when they return and to schedule a pop-up play, visit http://www.changingfacestheater.org or call (209) 747-8043.