Annual On-Stage Birthday Luncheon Committee members C.J. Westrick-Bomar, June Benson, Victoria Bridges, Linda Weakley, Geri Dardi, Sandy Woodson (chair) and Erica Espinola. Credit: David A. Lee

With whimsical décor inviting guests down the most delightful rabbit hole, The Muses and Patroness Circle of McCallum Theatre hosted their 35th Annual On-Stage Birthday Luncheon recently, a wonderful tradition started at the end of the McCallum’s first season in 1989.

With the fun and playful theme of “Muses in Wonderland,” the event had an ambitious agenda. First, after a champagne reception in the theater lobby during which guests met, mingled and posed with a variety of Wonderland characters and props, it was time for the organization’s annual meeting where a new slate of officers was introduced, headed up by incoming President Diane Dykema.

Next up was an historic check presentation from The Muses and Patroness Circle to McCallum Theatre leadership. Outgoing Muses President June Benson was joined onstage by this year’s fundraising chairs, Dykema and Rosalind Hack, to present a check in the amount of $802,250 to new McCallum Board Chairperson Garry Kief, Immediate Past Chairperson Harold Matzner and McCallum President, CEO and Artistic Director Mitch Gershenfeld.

“I cannot begin to thank you enough for that amazing check,” said Gershenfeld. “You have made history here today. This check is the largest one ever presented by the Muses and brings the total cumulative giving by the Muses to support McCallum Theatre Education to well over $11 million. That is just an astonishing figure.”

Said Kief: “The Muses and Patroness Circle of McCallum Theatre is without a doubt one of the most remarkable, most talented, most creative, most generous and most successful volunteer leadership groups, not only here in the valley, but I would honestly say in the country and that is no exaggeration.”

Following the business portion of the morning was a performance by ventriloquist Rob Watkins, the 2011 McCallum Theatre Open Call grand prize and audience favorite winner, who had the audience in stitches. He also expressed his gratitude to the Muses for their support of McCallum Theatre Education, under whose auspices and through the leadership of Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, the McCallum vice president of education, Open Call has been a valley staple for a quarter-century. Watkins then introduced the most recent Open Call grand prize and audience favorite award winner, Sylvia Quintana, who sang a stirring version of “My Heart Will Go On.”

Then it was time for the great reveal. The curtain went up, and eliciting a chorus of oohs and ahs and a sea of cell phone cameras, the McCallum stage was festooned with beautifully decorated tables, magnificently designed lighting and a backdrop of Wonderland characters featured in a 4 1/2-minute video that perfectly set the mood for lunch the rest of the day’s festivities.

The luncheon menu by Carousel Catering featured a cucumber mint smoothie and a Cheshire Cat cranberry chicken salad. Dessert provided by The Butter Cake Studio consisted of a beautifully decorated centerpiece of “Cupcakes in Wonderland.”

During lunch, past Muses presidents Sandra Cooper Woodson (who expertly chaired the luncheon) and Linda Weakley presented a plaque of appreciation to the McCallum backstage crew for their creativity and tireless support for 35 years of On-Stage Luncheons. The award was accepted by Jim Anderson, audio and video director, representing his colleagues.

In her speech looking back on her two-year tenure as president, Benson commented about many highlights and shared parting words as she wished her successor well: “The Muses and Patroness Circle is a great organization. It’s great because of all of you,” she told the membership. “Let’s always remember that what we do really makes a difference in so many lives. Let’s keep that going.”

Incoming President Dykema echoed Benson’s sentiment while thanking the Muses for “giving me this opportunity to work with so many accomplished and interesting women.” She added, “My goal over the next two years will be to continue to build on all of the meaningful and life-affirming achievements that the Muses have already accomplished over the past 35 years.”

The incoming Slate of Officers for The Muses and Patroness Circle of McCallum Theatre includes: Diane Dykema, president; June Benson, immediate past president; Rosalind Hack and Victoria Bridges, fundraising chairs; Karen Ackland and Nancy Robinson, membership chairs; Cardriner Bowden, education chair; Lynn Lucurell, Patroness silver chair and historian; Joyce Dawson, Patroness Circle chair; June Benson and Jaishri Mehta, birthday luncheon chairs; Wanda Martin and Erica Espinola, meet and mingle chairs; Cynthia Cottrell, recording secretary; Jean Viereck, corresponding secretary; Sandra Cooper Woodson, treasurer; Jaishri Mehta, parliamentarian; and Julie Spira and Kim White Peterson, members-at-large.

Emeritus members include: Judith Antonio, Marge Barry, the late Donna Jean Darby, Geri Dardi, Peggy Donohue-Berk, Susan Gelman, Linda Rider, Nancy Stone and Fran Suydam.

The Birthday Luncheon Committee included Sandra Cooper Woodson, chair; and Victoria Bridges, Geri Dardi, Erica Espinola, Linda Weakley and CJ Westrick-Bomar.

For additional information about The Muses and Patroness Circle of McCallum Theatre, go to

This piece was submitted on behalf of the McCallum Theatre by Jeffrey Norman.