The boardmembers of the Marjorie Luke Theatre have shown they know how to turn a junior high school auditorium into a major community resource, and on Saturday, April 26, they plan to show that they also know how to throw a great party. In honor of the 10th anniversary of the renovation of the theater, and in conjunction with Santa Barbara Junior High’s (SBJHS) 80th birthday, they are throwing a Beatles bash starring The Fab Four, an acclaimed cover band that sings in the same key as the Beatles. Alan Parsons will introduce the band from the stage and talk about his time working as an engineer on Abbey Road and Let It Be. After screaming their lungs out at The Fab Four, guests will repair to the SBJHS courtyard, which is being transformed into an octopus’s garden for the “Yellow Submarine Soiree” after-party. The event, which benefits the Luke’s youth theater program, is sponsored by Montecito Bank & Trust and by Seymour Duncan, and if it’s anything like the last time The Fab Four played the Luke, it will be a night to remember. Board president Gerrie Fausett likened the energy that night to “being in the Ed Sullivan Theater when the Beatles hit America by storm.” If that’s not high praise, I don’t know what is.
As for the Marjorie Luke Theatre, high praise is the only kind that’s appropriate. In the 10 years since its renovation, the Luke has been a model of availability and quality, not only for Santa Barbara Junior High School, but for the entire community. Measured on a per-seat basis, “it’s the most affordable theater rental option in town,” according to theater’s founding board president Rod Lathim. Over the last decade, many, many great performers have played there, including Rufus Wainwright, Mavis Staples, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. And the Luke has range — there have been flying dance troupes and oratorios. Between 2006 and 2008, when the theater was in use by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, such luminaries as Naomi Watts, James Cameron, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman graced its stage.
“What makes me happy is seeing the community use it. I like seeing 300 kids on that stage,” said Lathim, adding that he also feels “inspired by the shows that Alpha Resource Center puts on and by the Luke’s nine-year relationship with Viva el Arte, which brings fantastic, Grammy-winning groups like La Santa Cecilia to our community at no charge.” The theater is in use more than 300 days a year, and with 45 percent of those dates being rentals, there has been no need for additional capital campaigns to keep the operation going. Thanks to general manager Rick Villa and his small staff, the room looks just as clean and crisp as it did 10 years ago — no small feat for a junior high facility. And while the school owns the building, all the equipment in it is the property of the theater’s foundation, and that includes a brand-new Yamaha CL5 mixing board — a $30,000 piece of equipment that you won’t find in most junior highs.
“They said it couldn’t be done,” said Lathim. “People told me, ‘You can’t have a real professional theater that’s inside a junior high school,’ but we proved them wrong.” Many of the original donors to the Luke are sure to be in attendance on Saturday, and the enthusiasm ought to be flowing freely by the time Parsons and The Fab Four take the stage at 7 p.m. Join the crowd on Saturday, and see if you can’t prove them all wrong one more time, not just by having a real theater — and a real party — in a junior high school, but by bringing the Beatles back together for one more night of Beatle — and Luke — mania.