Ryan Chartrand

The San Luis Obispo Little Theatre is celebrating its 60th season in show business this year, making it one of the longest continuously-running community theaters in the nation.

In the theater’s six-decade lifespan, more than 375 productions have been staged in over 21 locations around the county. The Little Theatre began in 1947 with a production of Noel Coward’s “Blythe Spirit.” In 1946, Cal Poly social sciences professor Norman Cruikshanks placed an advertisement in the paper looking for people interested in starting a local theatre group. He played the lead role in “Blythe Spirit” the following year.

The sixtieth season kicked off July 27 with the re-opening of “Only the Lonely,” a tribute to Roy Orbison featuring songs like “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Blue Bayou,” “Crying” and, of course, “Only the Lonely.” This show is the latest in the Legends Series, a string of seven musical tribute productions that have been very popular with the public. Artists showcased in previous shows include Johnny Cash, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Patsy Cline.

“Only the Lonely” director Donna Sellars attributes the Little Theatre’s longevity to the commitment of its volunteers and the interest of the community.

“A nonprofit has to have community support to survive, and for SLOLT, donors and volunteers are our lifeblood. We just couldn’t do it without them. It’s a great thing to be able to put on the quality of shows that we do with all-volunteer talent and time.” Sellars described the volunteers as an “incredibly talented and dedicated group of people.”

Little Theatre volunteers Cayce Clayton and Randy Hose also credited the large volunteer base as a stronghold of the theater.

“[Sixty years] is truly a remarkable feat for the ‘little’ theatre,” said Hose, who played several characters in the recent production of “Razzle Dazzle.” “The people who work at the Little Theatre . keep the foundation strong and truly care about the product they bring to the patrons of SLO. Everyone demands the highest quality of work and will settle for nothing less.”

Some 500 volunteers comprise the driving creative force of the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre. Seventeen-year-old Clayton played Tony in the recent production of “West Side Story.”

“The cast was so supportive and got along really well. The location is not too big and not too small and I love that about them. That’s where the charm is,” he said. “As long as good shows with good people keep coming out, it’ll be there. That’s what theater’s all about.”

Sellars said that the future holds great things for the Little Theatre. “We are doing a renovation this summer in the main theater, putting in new seats and painting,” she said. “We’re looking forward to the season of shows we have lined up for this year; some of them are shows that have never been done on the Central Coast. We have hired a full-time administrator for our children’s program, and look forward to expanding that program. We hope to be out in the schools, retirement homes and community groups more. We want our 60th season to be our best ever!”

The productions scheduled for the Little Theatre’s 60th anniversary season are “Only the Lonely,” “Crimes of the Heart,” “The Full Monty,” “Little Women of Orchard House,” “Wrong Turn at Lungfish,” “Dancing at Lughnasa” and “Annie Get Your Gun.”

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