Local Theater Success Story: Kentwood Players at the Westchester Playhouse

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This December, local community theater group Kentwood Players will celebrate its 65th anniversary, founded by the late Arky and Jan Marcom, Elizabeth Thornberg and Betty Francis in December 1949. The company actually got its start, and its name, as members of the Kentwood Elementary School PTA in Westchester, motivated by a school play they performed there, after which they decided to keep a good thing going. This small group of talented men and women quickly got their act together, so to speak, and in 1950, this illustrious theatre “family” officially began.

Obviously, they couldn’t stay at an elementary school, but looking for a permanent home wasn’t easy. At times, the Kentwood “boards” included a barn, a pump house, and a restaurant before 1960, when the players finally found their present location at the corner of 83rd Street and Hindry in Westchester. In the early sixties they transformed an old warehouse into the Westchester Playhouse and made it their permanent home.

The venue now houses a proscenium stage, dressing rooms, costume closets, a scene shop, 112 comfortable seats and a large, welcoming front patio. Best of all, the entire facility is owned and operated by the group.

Their current production of Lyle Kessler’s ORPHANS, directed by Kentwood’s president Kathy Dershimer, and is receiving rave reviews from both the press and audience members.  Performances continue through October 18 on Fri/Sat at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $20 with a $2 discount for seniors, students and servicemen. Call (310) 645-5156 for tickets in advance or purchase them at the box office starting one hour prior to curtain.

During each season, the group produces six mainstage productions composed of two musicals, two comedies, a drama, and a mystery. Some of Kentwood’s loyal season subscribers have been attending KP shows for decades and enjoy seeing their favorite actors on stage, and through the years have become friends as well as theatergoers. Patrons and members agree that the Kentwood’s value can’t be beat. Where else can you see six shows of such high quality at the low cost of $80?

Because this is community theatre, volunteers who take their jobs very seriously, as does their elected Board of Directors who manage all aspects of running the little theater do all work. That’s why this non-profit group can afford to keep their prices low while not skimping on sets and costumes.

Serious actors know the caliber of Kentwood’s shows and are proud to list them on their resumes. Some of their actors over the years have gone on to star in television and film, most recently Joe West who played the title role in Kentwood’s “Oliver!” and went on to star as Ralphie in “The Christmas Story” musical on Broadway and as Kurt Von Trapp in the recent televised musical “The Sound of Music.”

Production auditions are open to all and everyone is encouraged to participate either on stage or as part of the crew.  Find out more about the group, its productions and upcoming auditions by attending the group’s general  membership meetings, which are open to the public and held at the Westchester Playhouse on the third Wednesday of each month at 7:30pm. The support and love among the Kentwood “family” crosses multi-generations where life-long friendships (and some marriages) have taken place.

Come on down and join in the fun, make some new friends, and be part of the 65 years old and going strong, Kentwood Players at Westchester Playhouse, located two blocks west of the San Diego Freeway and two blocks north of Manchester at 8301 Hindry Avenue in the beautiful community of Westchester, CA.

Looking ahead, Kentwood Players members are certainly looking forward to the new LAX Crenshaw Metro Line stop being constructed near Florence and Hindry, just one block south of the Playhouse which will allow patrons from all over Los Angeles to hop on a train and arrive at the Westchester Playhouse to enjoy some of the best shows in town.  To quote Nadine Wright from Life in LA, “This theater is the best kept secret on the Westside!”  Perhaps, but not for long – especially when their production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical INTO THE WOODS opens on November 14 through December 20.

For online information about Kentwood Players, please visit their website at www.kentwoodplayers.org. Information is also avaiable on Facebook and Twitter.

The Culver City News welcomes Shari Barrett as our new weekly theater columnist. Along with reviews, Shari will be writing feature stories about local theater companies and Westside residents who are contributing to the arts in our community.

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