Painting with All the Parts

When Judith Swartz (left) was a theatre student at MPC, she would bring her young daughter Kirsten Clapp (right) to rehearsals with her.

“She was a theatre mascot,” Swartz says.  “From the age of two to six she would be on set with me while I was working.  She even helped me with lines.”

Today, the mother-daughter pair are engaged in a new collaborative expression of their love of theatre: together they have created the Stardust Playhouse, an intimate theatre in Monterey that opened in December 2011 with a production of “Rabbit Hole,” directed by Clapp.

Clapp, who studied Theatre Arts at MPC before transferring to CSUMB, where she is currently majoring in Teledramatic Arts and Technology, had wondered aloud to her mother, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had our own theatre?”

From there it didn’t take long for Clapp to locate a suitable site; after contacting the City of Monterey, the family took possession of the space, on Fremont Avenue, in October 2011.  They mounted their first show two months later.

“Overall the response has been very good,” Swartz says.  “We even have repeat customers who want to bring friends or family members to shows they’ve enjoyed.”

The Stardust Playhouse has thirty-nine seats.  Swartz’s father was involved in the construction of the stage and seating area.  He also indirectly contributed to the choice of the theatre’s name.

“Kirsten wanted to pick a name that evoked the glamour of 1930s Hollywood, an era she loves, so she came up with Stardust.  And I remembered how as a young man, my father had performed at the Pasadena Playhouse, so we used ‘Playhouse’ instead of ‘Theatre.’”

Since opening last December, the Stardust Playhouse has presented “Marijuanalogues,” directed by Clapp, “You’ve Got Hate Mail,” directed by Swartz, and “Pillowman,” guest directed by Breanna Donofrio.  Swartz enjoys directing but prefers acting.  Her favorite role to date was the Blue Fairy in a recent MPC Storybook Theatre production of “Pinocchio,” directed by Carey Crockett, in which the title character was performed by her grandson and Clapp’s son, Peyton Whetstone.

Clapp’s passion lies in directing.  “With directing, she’s painting with all the parts,” Swartz says.  “A director is really creating something.  She has a vision and sees the whole picture.  Set design, prop design, costume design—she really loves how with directing you are putting together an entire work of art.”

Their current show, running through June 10 and directed by Clapp, is “Den of Thieves,” by Stephen Adly (cast at right).  “It’s a dark comedy about criminals,” Swartz says.  “It takes place in New York City and the main characters are in a 12-step program for criminals who want to mend their ways.”  Upcoming shows this season include “Extremities,” “Zoo Story,” and “Speed of Darkness.”  For Halloween, they will present a murder mystery, “The Hilarious Hillbilly Massacre.”

As their first season reaches its halfway mark, Swartz admits she has been surprised at how much work is involved in putting on shows.  “It’s not just choosing a cast and rehearsing and having the performances,” she says.  “There’s all the administration, the marketing, the website—it’s quite a bit of hard work behind the scenes.”

Fortunately, the new enterprise has already attracted some young theatre angels who have quickly become part of the Stardust family.

“Timothy Samaniego, who was in our first show and was recently in “Prometheus Bound,” at the Paper Wing Theatre, has been very helpful and is a delight,” Swartz says.  “And Tiffany Torres, who was our stage manager for “You’ve Got Hate Mail,” is very capable and dedicated.”

Live theatre is a lifelong passion for Swartz, who has also studied art and holds a Master’s degree in education from CSUMB.  “Theatre is so magical,” she says.  “It’s all right there—the audience is right there in the room with you.  I love movies, too, but with theatre you can really transport people.  And as an actor, you can become someone else.  There is something uniquely special and creative about live theatre, something you can’t get anywhere else.”

The Stardust Playhouse is located at 2115 Fremont Avenue, Suite C, in Monterey.  “Den of Thieves” plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through June 10.  For tickets and information, visit www.stardustplayhousemonterey.com or call 831-402-8940.