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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Cask & Mask’s first play was 50 years ago

By Barry Schrader.................................April 27, 2006

Attending the final night’s production of Urinetown at Las Positas College recently (another great production by Ken Ross and company) I spotted two familiar figures in the front row who have more history in amateur theatre than any couple in this valley.

Seeing Garret and Joan Boer reminded me that the amateur thespian group Cask & Mask organized some 50 years ago. The first meeting was actually called in 1955 by the late Chet Fankhauser when he advertised for people interested in local theater to come to his home. Later the group gathered to formally organize at the home of Bill Jalonen, followed by another at the home of Sam and Kathy Salzinger. Their first production was If Men Played Cards as Women Do presented before the Beta Sigma Phi in early 1956 in Livermore. So began a great string of popular plays that ran into the 1970s.

There was a contest to name the drama group and Joan Boer recalls the winner was Kathy Salzinger with “Cask and Mask,” the cask being tied to the Livermore Valley Wine Country. Some of the early members were Connie Duke, David and Bernice Oakley, the Boers, Phyllis Bell (Parker), the Fankhausers, the Winslows, and Barbara Bunshah.

The first full length production was Blythe Spirit directed by Garret Boer, held in the Livermore High auditorium. Some of the main players were Audrey Wilkins, Delcie Parker, Bill Hayden, Connie Duke, Kathy Salzinger, plus Chet and Henri Fankhauser.

A newspaper article in October 1960 announced that the group had taken over the abandoned May School and the first production there was The Mikado, also directed by Boer. I recall fondly going to plays out in the country north of Livermore in that isolated little schoolhouse, crowded into the onetime classroom and hoping it wouldn’t rain because of the leaky roof. Due to the limited number of seats (much like the Las Positas Little Theatre today) several repeat performances had to be scheduled.

By 1973 the old school had become uninhabitable and the last play there was Charlie Brown. A February 1974 newspaper article reported the school had been closed down due to its aging condition and the failure of utilities (the well went dry and bathrooms out back no longer worked).

Then along came the Livermore Heritage Guild with plans to salvage the school, and maybe move it to Portola Park in town. The Guild got funding to have a cement foundation installed and put on a new roof. All this was for naught as vandals attacked it and then burned it to the ground in December 1979.

Meanwhile, the Cask & Mask group was also falling on hard times trying to find a new home and some funding. In November 1974 they put on a joint production of The Skin of our Teeth with the Granada Players at Granada High, which turned out to be their final show. It was reported in the papers that they built a float with some 100 slaves pulling it to publicize their need for a new home in the June 1975 Rodeo Parade, but to no avail.

Now in 2006 we have a fresh drama effort underway, inspired by Cask & Mask that sponsored a high school and college group known as the Auxiliary Players from 1966 to 1969. One of those young people, Karen Hogan, has organized a group called for now “An Unusual Evening of Spoken Words—and Maybe Other Stuff, Too.” They have started doing monologues and stage readings bimonthly at the Ultraspective Photography studio hidden away at 156 South Livermore Ave. Karen said more thespians as well as writers of original works are needed and can contact her via email at 4thstreetstudio
@pacbell.net
. Joan Boer and Connie Duke are delighted to see a new generation of amateur theater come alive in Livermore. Maybe Joan can be talked into doing a 50 year retrospective on Cask & Mask’s anniversary this November. Someone just needs to ask her!

* * *

Recently I was contacted by David Ferrell Jackson, director of the Bay Area Radio Museum, who revealed that Jack Benny came to Livermore in March 1944 to do his radio show from the Livermore Naval Air Station. Featured were all those regulars we have known and loved—Mary Livingstone, Rochester, Phil Harris, Dennis Day and Don Wilson. Jackson is hoping to find a local fan still around who remembers that show and maybe even a photo taken at the time. If you have any memories of the NAS show contact Jackson at djackson@bayarearadio.org. And if you would like to hear the recording of the actual show go online to www.bayarearadio.org/audio/benny and enjoy an oldie but goodie.

 

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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