In 1976, Tom Hanks came to Sacramento, where, as a theater major at Sac State, he developed the passion that became his career.
“I spent a lot of time going to plays,” he later told New York Magazine. “I wouldn’t take dates with me. I’d just drive to a theater, buy myself a ticket, sit in the seat and read the program, and then get into the play completely. I spent a lot of time like that, seeing (Bertolt) Brecht, Tennessee Williams, (Henrik) Ibsen and all that.”
Jessica Chastain, the two-time Academy Award nominee, first explored acting as a high schooler in Sacramento. Molly Ringwald performed in local theater here as a child and sang with her father’s jazz band.
Hollywood’s favorite cowboy, Sam Elliott, “got bit really early” with the acting bug, attending Saturday matinees and singing in choral groups as a little boy here. LeVar Burton, of “Roots”, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Reading Rainbow” grew up here, as did Oscar nominee Brie Larson. Rush Limbaugh and dance music artist Tycho got their start here.
Sacramento has nurtured and launched so many successful entertainers that it’s hard to believe that funding for its performing arts infrastructure is as heavy a lift as it is. It’s frustrating that midsize venues are so scarce in this midsize city, and that funding to build, operate or even renovate performance spaces is so difficult to come by. The B Street Theatre’s $25.7 million complex has taken nearly a decade; it shouldn’t have taken so long.
Yes, many exciting – and competing – projects are happening now in the city. And the lack of Fortune 500 companies here has meant a dearth of corporate sponsors.
But it shouldn’t be this hard for a city this size to drum up support for a decent performing arts scene. Where is the private philanthropy from those who have been entertained so well for so long by so much talent? Where is the follow-through from Mayor Kevin Johnson, who started out supporting a new performing arts center but seems to have left his heart halfway between the proposed soccer stadium and the new arena?
Some homegrown artists seem to have no problem being “Sacramento Proud” when it comes to returning to perform or to mount productions, and they deserve kudos. Sacramento native Colin Hanks just finished a documentary on the Tower Theatre, and Ringwald and Greta Gerwig, the independent film star, have maintained close ties with the arts community in Sacramento.
But where are the celebrities willing to underwrite Sacramento’s struggling arts scene? Where is Hollywood, which has profited well from Sacramento talent and which seems to have plenty of room in its heart when politicians or Los Angeles causes come calling for money? Where are all the local ex-pats who were so eager to claim Sacramento when Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler gained worldwide fame for stopping a terrorist on a train to Paris?
On this Valentine’s weekend of Oscar countdowns and date nights, aren’t the local arts worth some passion? Where is the love?