City switches children's theater provider despite parents' protests | March 22, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - March 22, 2013

City switches children's theater provider despite parents' protests

Civic Arts Commission says new group offers more acting opportunities

by Jeb Bing

The Pleasanton City Council agreed Tuesday night with a controversial recommendation of its Civic Arts Commission by awarding a one-year, $109,100 contract to a new group to handle children's theatrical production services, booting the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival that's been here since for years.

Only four speakers addressed the council in advance of its 3-0 vote, a far cry from more than 50 who packed an earlier public hearing of the Civic Arts Commission when it made its decision.

A representative of Bay Area Children's Theatre (BACT), out of Berkeley, which won the contract bid to provide its services starting July 1, thanked the council for its support, saying its services will provide professional, artistic, technical and administrative support for at least three theatrical productions in the coming year.

The San Francisco group did not attend Tuesday night's meeting, which Councilwoman Karla Brown noted.

"It would have been nice if they had shown up tonight to discuss their merits," she said before casting her vote in favor of BACT.

Susan Andrade-Wax, Pleasanton's Community Services Director who recommended the change, told the council that because the current service agreement with the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival is due to expire June 30, she appointed a steering committee consisting of two Civic Arts commissioners and representatives of her department to review proposals that had been submitted by both the San Francisco group and BACT.

The screening committee unanimously voted to recommend BACT based on the facts that it had proposed "a more comprehensive range of programming, that it was more responsive to the overall requirements of the program, and that it could result in improved program administration and management," Andrade-Wax said.

Overall, both the steering committee and then the Civic Arts Commission were impressed with BACT's vast experience working with multiple cities in the Bay Area, including San Ramon in the Tri-Valley.

They also told the council in a report that BACT would not only continue the excellent level of children's theater that parents and children in Pleasanton have come to expect, but with its knowledge of children's theater, it could help grow the city's program and that the experiences for the community would be more enriched.

Pleasanton first contracted with the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival in 2008 to produce shows, which included "Sleepy Hollow," "Ramona Quimby" and "Cinderella,"

When the Firehouse Arts Center opened in 2010, the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival was the only group to submit a proposal for both an outdoor theater production and children's theatrical services.

At Andrade-Wax's request, Pleasanton again sought bidders for children's theater services starting July 1. BACT and the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival were the only two theater companies to respond.

A majority of parents at Tuesday night's council meeting and at the earlier meeting of the Civic Arts Commission urged to the city to stay with the San Francisco group, which they said has done a superb job of working with children here. Many said their children were "devastated" to hear a new theater company might be taking over.

They said only four of the five-member Civic Arts Commission voted to switch services to BACT and that two of those voting were in their commission seats for the first time.

"We had no voice at that meeting," complained Carol Clinton. "More than 50 of us showed up to urge the commission to keep the contract it has, and many more signed petitions in support of the San Francisco group. Not a single person showed up to recommend a change."

But Karen Martens, a member of the Civic Arts Commission, told the council that the city staff did an outstanding job in keeping its consideration of the proposals and the selection process impartial.

She said the first time a large group of parents showed up to comment on the proposed theater group change, the issue was not on the Civic Arts Commission's agenda so commissioners could not discuss it at that time. At the second meeting, "a tremendous number of parents were brokenhearted that the San Francisco Shakespeare group was not chosen."

"Even so, I believe that the selection process was followed (in making the final decision)," she said.

Councilwoman Cook-Kallio said that disappointed parents and children were no different from what she has seen in school when students lose a beloved teacher.

Mayor Jerry Thorne said he remembers similar disappointments when his daughter, an athlete in her school years, faced the loss of favorite coaches.

Still, all three -- Thorne, Brown and Cook-Kallio -- voted to award the contract to BACT. Councilman Jerry Pentin was not at Tuesday night's council meeting.


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