CVIndependent

Fri11152019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Jimmy Boegle

Cathy Schenkelberg is coming to the valley to perform her renowned one-woman show, Squeeze My Cans: Surviving Scientology, for one reason: Scott Smith.

“He’s been my friend since (we both lived in) Chicago,” Schenkelberg said during a recent phone interview. “We did Hair together, the Midwest tour. He was Berger, and I was Crissy. Scott is gay, and he knew that I loved him. I was like, ‘Oh, why are you gay? I want you to be my lover.’ We made a pact that if either of us reached a certain age, and neither of us had kids, we would have a child together. I remember when I got pregnant with my daughter, I said, ‘Well, too late. I’m pregnant.’”

Scott Smith, a beloved local performer who was on the board of Dezart Performs, died suddenly last year, after suffering a heart attack. He was 61 years old.

“I was literally getting on a plane to Ireland; it was March 1, 2018,” Schenkelberg said. “I got a call from Michael (Shaw, Dezart Performs’ artistic director). That loss was so great to me, because I had never lost anybody close to me, aside from family members. When I flew back from Ireland to be at his service, I said to Michael Shaw, ‘If you get together some kind of scholarship fund, I will make sure that I come and perform for you.’”

Schenkelberg will perform Squeeze My Cans on Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 7 and 8, at the Desert Rose Playhouse. The proceeds will go to Dezart Performs and the Scott Smith Scholarship Fund.

The show tells the true story of how, in Schenkelberg’s words, a girl from a large Catholic family in Nebraska wound up having her life nearly destroyed by spending 14 years as a Scientologist. Oh, yeah, it also discusses that one time she auditioned to be Tom Cruise’s girlfriend.

“It’s a roller coaster ride,” Schenkelberg said. “I take you down the rabbit hole of Scientology, but I also do it with humor, because how else is there to get past this loss of almost two decades and a million dollars, than being able to laugh at yourself? It was like being in a job for 18 years that you hated, or being in an abusive relationship, and going, ‘How do I get out of this thing?’ I find humor in loss.”

It all started when Schenkelberg met a Scientologist while she was in her early 20s.

“I was a successful actress in Chicago,” she said. “I did a lot of voice-over work, and I was the first female clown at The Bozo Show. I had a steady income, but I felt like I wasn’t contributing. So when I found Scientology, it was the right thing for me. Someone mentioned to me this morning: ‘You know, you wouldn’t have been in this for 18 years if there wasn’t something good about it.’”

At first, Schenkelberg said, Scientology made her feel special. “They love-bomb you,” she said. But as Schenkelberg’s career and income grew, the church took notice.

“On every step through the Scientology Bridge to Total Freedom, it’s called, I went to a higher level, and in this process, each level costs you more money, until (you reach) the point where you’re in ‘dianetic clear’—you’re clear of your reactive mind,” she said. “It’s an indoctrination, but it slow-burns. … I got to the point where I was afraid to lose (Scientology), because I thought I would die, or something bad would happen to me, or I would lose my friends, and my agent, and my doctor. All the people I was connected to, suddenly, were Scientologists. They isolate you in that way, but it was very slow. … If they’d have introduced the aliens early on, I probably would’ve been out of there in two seconds.”

Schenkelberg finally decided to make a break with Scientology for two reasons: She was running out of money, and the church started to come after her daughter.

“People who see the show will see, in 75 minutes, how someone can be indoctrinated,” she said. “Keep in mind (that when I started in Scientology in the 1990s), I didn’t have Google; I didn’t have the internet, and once you’re in the church, you can’t look at the internet.”

Schenkelberg said that although the show is about her experience in Scientology, its themes are universal.

“Each time I perform, I realize that this isn’t just about Scientology. It’s about anything anyone is afraid to leave,” she said.

I had to ask: What’s the story behind the name of the show?

“I was having a drink in L.A. with my agent. I said, ‘Eric I need a name for my show.’ And he says, ‘Squeeze My Cans.’ He used to always mock me when I was auditing … where you use the e-meter, which is like a lie detector, and connected to the e-meter are two metal cans. So it’s a play on words,” she said with a laugh.

Squeeze My Cans: Surviving Scientology will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 7 and 8, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 69620 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Admission is $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.

What: The original Musashi tonkotsu

Where: Ramen Musashi, 44491 Town Center Way, Suite G, Palm Desert

How much: $14

Contact: 760-674-7299; ramenpalmdesert.com

Why: The broth is stellar.

Food trends usually arrive in the Coachella Valley about five years later than they arrive in bigger cities. Take ramen, for example: You can’t walk several blocks in any of the major West Coast cities without coming across a ramen shop or three—but here, they are few and far between.

I love a great bowl of ramen, which why I was excited when I learned several months ago about the opening of Ramen Musashi. One of the reasons for my excitement was the pedigree: It’s a sister restaurant of Musashi Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar, which has been open in Palm Desert since 1996, making it one of the valley’s oldest Asian restaurants.

I went to lunch there one recent weekday with my friend Debra. While Ramen Musashi offers vegetarian, chicken and even cold-ramen options, along with a variety of appetizers, Debra and I both ordered the original Musashi tonkotsu—featuring creamy pork bone broth and thin noodles, and topped with braised pork belly chashu, onion, marinated egg, marinated bamboo, kombu, shitake mushrooms and garlic chips.

After the fantastic server delivered the gorgeous, steaming bowls of food, we dove in … and wow: The ramen was revelatory. All of the ingredients were perfect. The pork was tender and delicious; the egg was a creamy delight. The garlic chips and onion did not overwhelm, and the noodles were just right.

But for me, ramen is all about the broth—and this tonkotsu broth was stellar. It was packed with umami, seasoned masterfully and soooooo delicious.

Thanks to the amazing ramen and the great service, Ramen Musashi is pretty special—as good as any of those major-city ramen shops.

What: The smoked pulled pork sandwich

Where: Unique Bite Eatery, 82900 Avenue 42, Indio

How much: $10.99

Contact: 760-342-8286; uniquebiteeatery.com

Why: The quality of the food is unique.

The name Unique Bite Eatery is a bit of a misnomer.

I do not mean this as an insult in any way: In fact, I am a big fan of the entrées offered at this newish fast-casual eatery, located north of Interstate 10 in Indio … but these dishes are not unique. A scan of the menu reveals a whole lot of classic Americana—house-smoked pork, pot roast, spaghetti, fried chicken, grilled chicken, burgers and the like.

On my recent lunch visit, I ordered the house smoked pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and barbecue sauce. I was torn between that and the creamy chicken with creamy rice, and the lovely woman behind the counter was kind enough to allow me to order the children’s size ($6.99) so I could try it.

After a longer-than-expected wait—although a sign on the wall does warn diners that the food is fresh-made, and that takes time—the aforementioned woman delivered my food. The chicken was tasty—the milk-based sauce on the chicken was flavorful, as was the cooked-in-milk rice—while the sandwich was fantastic. The house-smoked pork was delicious, and the crisp, cool house-made coleslaw was the perfect in-sandwich complement.

It’s worth noting that my friend Jeff tried to meet me for lunch, but got held up; he wound up going to Unique Bite Eatery later that same day, and he offered the smoked brisket sandwich ($12.99) his own endorsement. “If (I lived) closer, I’d be a regular,” Jeff told me.

If Unique Bite Eatery happened to be in my neighborhood, I’d be a regular as well. The food offerings may not be unique—but the quality definitely is.

Here’s some information on two important goings-on this month:

• Best of Coachella Valley voting is now under way!

First-round (nomination) voting in our annual readers’ poll is taking place through Friday, Sept. 13. Click on the link above, and you'll be sent to the open ballot—you fill in the blank in each category.

The top vote-getters will advance to the final round of voting, which will take place at CVIndependent.com from Monday, Sept. 30, through Monday, Oct. 28. The Best of Coachella Valley results will be announced at CVIndependent.com on Monday, Nov. 25, and in our special December print edition.

We run our readers’ poll a little bit differently than those other publications run theirs: For the Best of Coachella Valley, we ask readers to vote only once per round. The goal of other “Best Of” readers’ polls is for the publication to get as much web traffic as possible from readers visiting their websites over and over again to vote. Not us: We’d rather have readers vote just once per round, so our list of winners can be as fair as possible.

If you haven’t voted already … what are you waiting for? Get yourself to CVIndependent.com!

• Some bad news for local media on the circulation front: Kroger, the Cincinnati-based supermarket behemoth, has decided not to renew its agreement with DistribuTech to distribute free publications in its stores around the country.

What does this mean? Barring a change of heart, or Kroger making some sort of arrangement with another distribution company (both of which are unlikely), as of sometime in September, you’ll no longer be able to pick up the print version of the Independent—or any other free publication—at the Ralph’s stores in the Coachella Valley.

This move by Kroger is a very bad thing for both the media and the public. As our friends at the Memphis Flyer in Tennessee put it: “Kroger was providing a true community service with its free publications distribution … because ‘free’ information is often the only information available for a great many of our citizens. They may not be able to afford a subscription to the daily paper or the latest issue of Vanity Fair, but they can pick up (publications like the Independent) on their way out of the grocery store and get some insight into what’s happening in their community.”

As a result of all this, the Independent will lose five very good distribution spots; the good news is that leaves about 385 other locations where people can pick up the newspaper (including the four local Albertsons stores). If you’re one of the people who usually picks us up at Ralph’s, and you need help finding the paper elsewhere, you have two options: One, click on “Find a Copy” here at CVIndependent.com; or two, email me or call me at 760-904-4208, and I’ll personally let you know the closest distribution spots to you.

One more thing: Please feel free to express your displeasure about this decision to management at your local Ralph’s. Be polite—the decision came from corporate headquarters, not local management—but if enough people complain, perhaps those complaints will make their way back to Cincinnati and change some minds.

As always, thanks for reading—and if you have anything to say, don’t hesitate to email me at the address below. Also, be sure to pick up the September 2019 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent, hitting streets this week.

Owner of 533 Viet Fusion to Open Roly China Fusion in Former Alebrije Space

One of downtown Palm Springs’ best restaurants is no more—but a veteran restaurateur is going to take over that restaurant’s space and hopefully fill a culinary need.

Here’s how it all went down: Alebrije Bistro Mexico, at 1107 N. Palm Canyon Drive, closed in early July. The Mexico City-style upscale restaurant announced on Facebook: “Dear amigos, Alebrije will be closed for the rest of the summer. See you again in September!”

Within a couple of weeks, however, it became apparent that Alebrije would not be seeing us again in September—because Chad Gardner, the owner of both 533 Viet Fusion and Dash and a Handful Catering, announced on Facebook that he’d be opening Roly China Fusion in the space that had been Alebrije’s home.

A July 28 announcement on Facebook said Roly will be “serving authentic Cantonese and Sichuan Chinese Cuisine with (Gardner’s) own modern twists. Roly China Fusion will offer an exceptional social and traditional dining experiences in our indoor-outdoor lounge and restaurant.”

What does all of this mean? First: The closure of Alebrije is truly a loss. For my money, it served some of the most sophisticated food and drink in the Coachella Valley. The roasted suckling pig was on my unofficial Top 10 list of the valley’s best entrées. It will be missed.

Second: The opening of Roly, which could come as soon as October, will be most welcome. Gardner has been looking for his next restaurant project for a while now; he announced back in 2016 that he’d be opening a Mediterranean restaurant in the much-and-still-delayed Andaz Palm Springs hotel, but those plans fell through. Given his success with 533 Viet Fusion, I am excited to see what he’ll do with Chinese cuisine—and it’s a well-known fact that the western Coachella Valley badly needs some good Chinese fare.

Watch www.rolychinafusion.com and Roly’s Facebook page for updates and more information.


Ace Hotel Launches a Monthly Wine-Tasting Series

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club is holding a monthly poolside wine-tasting series in the months leading up to the second annual Palm Springs Wine Festival.

The Golden Grapes tastings each cost $20, will occur on a weekend day between noon and 5 p.m., and will feature a “curated selection of wineries represent(ing) just a few of the new California vintners who are transforming the landscape of wine in the Golden State and beyond,” according to a press release.

On Sunday, Sept. 29, Nomadica wines will be available; on Sunday, Oct. 13, the featured winemaker will be Amy Atwood Selections. On Saturday, Nov. 9, it’ll be Scribe Wine (Nouveau).

As for the second annual Palm Springs Wine Festival … mark your calendars for Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7 and 8.

The Ace Hotel and Swim club is located at 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. For more information, visit www.acehotel.com/palmsprings.


In Brief

New to 72301 Country Club Drive, Suite 110, in Rancho Mirage: The Sandbox Kitchen, a deli/taco joint that opened in early August. For now, the place is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day but Sunday (and Saturday, when it’s open until 9). We’re already hearing raves about the street tacos and the impressive number of vegan/vegetarian options. Call 760-565-6044, or visit facebook.com/TheSandboxKitchen for more information. … New to 360 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs: InKa Peruvian Cuisine. The restaurant wins our Weirdest Facebook “About” Description Award with this: “The InKa came to Palm Springs, brought with him his best dishes with which he will conquer the entire city.” OK then! The expansive menu features a lot of yummy-sounding dishes with meat and seafood, as well as some intriguing vegetarian options. InKa opens at 11 a.m. Monday and Tuesday, and 9 a.m. the other five days of the week; it’s open daily until at least 10 p.m. For more information, call 760-992-5311, or visit www.facebook.com/inkaperuviancuisine. … Acqua California Bistro, at The River (71800 Highway 111) in Rancho Mirage, is now offering a “Buffet Bar” every Sunday through Friday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.: $7.99 will get you a selection of pizzas, pastas, salads, sliced meats and other goodies—and the house chardonnay and cabernet wines are just $4.99. Call 760-862-9800, or visit acquaranchomirage.com for more information. … Coming soon to 100 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Suite 130, in downtown Palm Springs: Stout Burgers and Beers. It’ll be the sixth Stout location, joining three other Southern California locations, plus restaurants in Brentwood, Tenn., and Louisville, Ky.; visit www.stoutburgersandbeers.com for more information. … Coming soon to 73040 El Paseo, in Palm Desert: Eddie V’s Prime Seafood. It’s a sister restaurant to The Capital Grille chain; visit www.eddiev.com for the scoop.

After five successful years, the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival took a hiatus in 2018.

“We got off to a very good start and picked up a nice audience,” said Gail Christian, one of the producers. “Then after a couple of years, our audience wasn’t growing.

“The problem is that jazz is really only 2 percent of the music audience—and then (we were slicing) that even smaller, into women’s jazz. We felt that we needed to put more in the mix to bring a larger audience in. As much as people liked our events, not everyone was a jazz fan.”

Thus, Palm Springs Women’s Week was born. The inaugural week will take place Sunday, Sept. 29, through Sunday, Oct. 6, at venues across the Coachella Valley. The week is being billed as “a celebration of lesbian culture and thought”—although all people, men included, are welcome—and includes art, parties, lectures, dance, singing and all sorts of other events. The week includes the return of the Women’s Jazz Festival, on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 4 and 5, and the L-Fund Golf Tournament, taking place Saturday, Oct. 5.

The week is produced by Christian and her partner, Lucy DeBardelaben.

“We call ourselves producers and promoters, but that’s not what really what we consider ourselves to be,” Christian said. “We consider ourselves to be activists. Lucy and I have a long history of being involved in feminist events, lesbian events. But we really see ourselves as political activists, and everything that we do on some level is politically centered. Like the Jazz Festival, for instance: While it’s about music, it’s about women musicians and how they are underpaid and underserved in their profession. The whole idea is not only to have an audience come, but for these players to get paid.

“Having said that, there are all sorts of other events we decided we would like to do that never seemed to make it to the drawing board. Out of all that came an idea: Why don’t we take the Jazz Festival and a lot of these other things that we’re interested in doing that highlight women’s achievements, and put it all into something called Palm Springs Women’s Week?”

The week came to fruition with help from The L-Fund, a group founded in 2012 that assists local lesbians facing a short-term financial crisis, and offers grants to lesbians for higher education or skilled training.

“I’m very close with Barbara Carpenter,” The L-Fund’s executive director, “and I was talking to her about the golf tournament, and said, ‘Well, you’ve got women coming in for the golf tournament,’” Christian said. “And she said, ‘Yes, and often those women ask, “What else is there to do?”’ And so she thought that would be a good idea if we could place Women’s Week around the Golf Tournament, and anchor the week with the Jazz Festival and the golf tournament.”

The week features a diverse slate of events—from jazz singer Rose Mallett paying tribute to Sarah Vaughan, to a “Power Gathering” during which a panel of local lesbian leaders will discuss current events before a screening of the documentary film American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Palm Springs Woman’s Club will be the site of a “Food and Wine Party” featuring a variety of women chefs, including La Tasha McCutchen, a winner of Hell’s Kitchen, and Nena Balestier, a winner of Chopped.

“Food has defined women’s roles in the family,” Christian said. “While they’ve always been able to cook at home, they’ve had a very difficult time becoming, quote, ‘a chef.’ It’s only in the past 20 years that we’ve seen women really start to come out of the woodwork as chefs. So we’re going to talk about not only chefs and their food, but we’re also going to talk about the relationship between food and women.”

Christian said she’s also excited about the festival’s emphasis on women in art, with an exhibit at Barba Contemporary Art Gallery (191 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs), and the spotlight on an unheralded collection of historic lesbian memorabilia called the June L. Mazer archive. It’ll be on display throughout Women’s Week at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club.

“It’s a very important archive that most people don’t know anything about. It is a 2,500-piece lesbian archive; my understanding is it started out in someone’s home,” Christian said. “… They really have done I think a wonderful job, with very little money, of pulling together a quite impressive archive. They are bringing about 50 pieces to Palm Springs that we’ll have on display all week.”

Christian said that Palm Springs Women’s Week is coming at a crucial time for lesbians—and all women.

“It’s important for the same reason that the civil rights movement is still important: Certainly, there have been gains made, but in this particular political climate, it’s very easy to see how easy it is to lose those gains, or to see them being eroded, unless you stay on top of it,” Christian said.

Palm Springs Women’s Week takes place Sunday, Sept. 29, through Sunday, Oct. 6, at various venues across the valley. For a complete schedule, tickets and more information, visit www.palmspringswomensweek.com.

What: The grilled shrimp tacos

Where: El Patron Crafted Tacos and Drinks, 101 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $13

Contact: 888-340-8226; www.elpatronps.com

Why: They’re simply delicious.

It was a bit strange to walk into the space I’d known for years as the downtown Palm Springs Starbucks … and instead find a vibrant, colorful Mexican restaurant.

Strange … but good. Starbucks fans (A note to y’all: Considering buying local instead, damn it!) have a gorgeous new Reserve shop across the street, and fans of tasty Mexican fare and yummy drinks now have El Patron.

I stopped in for a recent weekday lunch, walked to the counter where one orders, and requested an order of shrimp tacos and a michelada ($10) with Negro Modelo. Take note of these prices: They ain’t cheap. Fortunately, everything that showed up at my table a short time later was delicious.

The tacos, in particular, were fantastic: The Mexican white shrimp (you can get ’em either fried or grilled) were prepared juuust right, topped with cabbage and pico de gallo, and tucked in a thick, house-made tortilla. They came with a handful of house-made chips and a red salsa. The person who dropped off the food asked if I wanted any other salsas; after he listed a spicy green salsa as one of the options, I responded with an enthusiastic: “Yes, please!” It was splendid.

My one concern about El Patron involves price: A block and a half away, I can get two shrimp tacos of similar quality—and get table service to boot—at a beloved restaurant for $2 less (or $4 less if it’s after 9 p.m.). Tourists won’t care, of course, but cost-conscious locals may.

Aside from that one potential problem, however, I must tip my figurative hat to El Patron. The service is great; the food is delicious; and the vibe inside that former Starbucks is fun and festive.

What: The boom boom shrimp

Where: Kitchen 86 + Bar, 73130 El Paseo, Suite I, Palm Desert

How much: $13 at lunch

Contact: 760-890-1586; www.kitchen-86.com

Why: These are some tasty bites.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Kitchen 86 + Bar is welcoming.

I was greeted enthusiastically as I walked in the door for lunch one recent weekday at this locally owned “modern eclectic small plate restaurant,” in the space that once housed Wolfgang Puck’s El Paseo outpost. The vibe is upscale and energetic, but not pretentious, and the lunch menu is a lot of fun: You’ll find “sharables,” some named after people (Kerry’s crispy calamari, Winston’s hummus, Abel’s salmon tacos), along with sandwiches, salads, pizza and some kids’ selections.

My lunch companion, Kevin, and I split the boom-boom shrimp to start, while I selected the agu ramen ($15) as my main course. This was one of those occasions when the starter far outshined the main: The ramen was just OK, while the boom-boom shrimp were revelatory. The bite-sized shrimp were perfectly cooked, and covered (but not drenched) in the spicy-but-not-too-hot Thai chili glaze. The accompanying organic greens, lightly dressed, were fresh and tasty.

My one complaint: We wanted more. Kevin is a mensch, so he let me have the lion’s share of the shrimp, and they were delicious enough that I felt bad about that. Some may complain about the portion size, given the $13 price tag—but I don’t mind paying a buck or two extra for something that’s well-prepared with quality ingredients.

Because this was lunch on a work day, I abstained from cocktails—which was a bummer, because Kitchen 86 + Bar’s cocktail menu looks fantastic, as does the happy hour. I also love the fact that Kitchen 86 + Bar is open until 2 a.m. every night!

I can’t wait to be welcomed back in the future to enjoy libations—and some more of that fantastic boom-boom shrimp.

On Saturday, July 13, I was sitting in a conference room at the Hotel Boulderado in Boulder, Colo., during the 2019 AAN Awards Ceremony, the finale of the annual Association of Alternative Newsmedia conference.

The ceremony honored the amazing and inspiring journalism done last year at alternative newspapers across the United States and Canada—including the Coachella Valley Independent. For the fourth time in five years, we earned an AAN Award, this time an honorable mention in the Column category, for Anita Rufus’ fantastic “Know Your Neighbors.”

As I applauded my friends and colleagues who were going up to accept the various awards, I was watching my cell phone—because I was expecting a call from staff writer Kevin Fitzgerald, with an update on the story we’ve featured on this issue’s cover.

People might assume that I took delight in the Independent publishing and reporting this story, because it deals with possible wrongdoing involving a competitor, of sorts, to the Independent. But that couldn’t be further from the truth: While I am proud of the story, which you can read on Page 12, the content depresses me.

I love the Coachella Valley. This is the first place I’ve lived in that I chose; fate, in some form or another, led me to all of my prior homes. I also love journalism; I wouldn’t have put up with the mediocre-at-best wages and long hours for almost 2 1/2 decades so far otherwise. When I combine these two loves … the state of journalism in the Coachella Valley makes me very, very sad.

I am not talking about The Desert Sun; while its diminished state compared to what it once was is alarming, there are still good journalists there doing some fine work. I am also not talking about Palm Springs Life, which is fantastic as far as city magazines go … although its “prestige” content is clearly not meant for people who don’t make six-figure-or-more incomes, aka the vast majority of us.

I am talking about other publications in the valley, where original reporting and competent writing are nigh impossible to find. The best of the bunch is CV Weekly, the aforementioned competitor, of sorts; within CV Weekly’s pages, one can indeed find some good writing and well-intentioned work, especially regarding support of the local music community. Unfortunately, CV Weekly also regularly sells editorial content—particularly cover stories—and does not disclose that these pieces are actually paid for by the subjects. Not only is this a disservice to CV Weekly’s readers; it’s an unethical practice that every serious journalism organization would condemn. And when that content is posted online without disclosures, it’s a violation of Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

On a personal level … the practice is also quite unfair to those of us who try pretty darn hard to do things ethically and honestly. A great community like the Coachella Valley deserves strong journalism … which is why the Independent is here, even if our efforts are modest and imperfect.

As always, thanks for reading the Independent. Don’t hesitate to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.—and be sure to check out the August 2019 print edition, hitting streets now.

Most of the Coachella Valley’s theater companies have gone dark during these dog days of summer—and those that are still going have left things up to the kids.

Desert Theatreworks is currently in the midst of showing off the results of its KidsWorks Summer Camp—and the Green Room Theatre Company this week will mount four performances of a massive production of Sister Act.

David Catanzarite, Green Room Theatre Company’s founding artistic director, recently spoke to the Independent about Sister Act and Green Room’s plans for the upcoming season.

Tell me about the Green Room Theatre Company and where it fits into the Coachella Valley theater ecosystem, for lack of a better word.

During the regular season, from September to May, we have a lot of professional actors, and we do mainly adult plays for adult audiences. This year, we are doing three Pulitzer Prize-winning plays for our regular season (Sweat, by Lynn Nottage; Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive; and August Wilson's Fences), and we launched a Shakespeare festival as of three years ago.

We founded the (Summer Theatre) Conservatory 10 years ago. We started off … just trying to put together a really good training program for middle-schoolers, because the middle schools were all closing down their theater programs. … Once we announced it, we had people coming through and saying, “Well, my daughter is just a year away from middle school, and she really wants to be in the conservatory,” and, “Well, I'm in high school, but I really, really want to do this,” so we extended it even in the first year to a bigger age spread. We went 8 to 18. … Our goal all along has been nobody will get turned away for inability to pay.

We are the most rigorous and comprehensive summer theater training program in the Coachella Valley. We are professionally oriented; we teach the kids professional work habits … and we work fast. We will have had 23 days of rehearsal before we open on Wednesday, and it's really exciting for (the kids), because they love it.

Are all of the kids from the Summer Theatre Conservatory going to be in Sister Act?

Yes, every kid who’s in the conservatory will be performing in the show—except for we have a tech track now, too. Those kids won't be performing, because they're doing tech. We're going to have about 60 performers on stage, including our musicians.

You must have a big stage at Indio High School.

We do. This is a fantastic theater, and I'm pretty sure we are the first non-school production that's been allowed to use this amazing space. I've worked in all the theaters in the Coachella Valley … and this is the best middle-size house in the Coachella Valley. I mean, it's got 49 pipes overhead for lighting and scenery. The Desert Sands Unified School District put a lot of money into this beautiful space.

Why did you choose Sister Act for the summer show?

We're really making a push to start finding and creating roles for more African-American and Latino actors in general. So it was a bit of a leap of faith with Sister Act to do a play that has an African-American leading lady, but we’ve got a great actor in that role.

This play really appeals to me, because it has two things that I think our company, in its 10th season, is all about. One is (people) finding themselves through finding a community. That's one of the big scenes in Sister Act. When the kids come to us, they have a chance to really grow into themselves. … So that's one thing—the strong sense of community that is embodied in Sister Act. The other piece of it is self-realization. That’s what this play is all about.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

We’re looking to grow another step, and we're always looking for people to join the company, whether it's as board members, or more adult actors to join and work with us during the regular year.

How do you intend on getting those adults to join? Are you doing auditions?

We already had one round of auditions back in June. We're going to do another round a little later, like around September. We’ll announce the auditions on the website.

Where are your shows this season going to take place?

We put shows in places that people don’t necessarily think of in terms of theater. We’re going to do something at one of the libraries, maybe more than one. We're also probably going to partner with the CREATE Center for the Arts. … Part of what we do is try to take theater to people where they are instead of people always having to come to a theater. That’s part of our mission in the company—to take theater to under-served parts of the Coachella Valley.

The classes that I teach (on theater at the Cal State University, San Bernardino’s Palm Desert Campus) … I always do a survey at the beginning of the year with my students. These are college students; they're 18 through 28. About a third of them have never seen live theater at all. I say, “Did you do anything in kindergarten? Did you ever go to a church play?” No, they have never seen any live theater. That pumps up my mission even more, because obviously I love theater. I want everybody to have that—the joy, the experience of live theater.

Sister Act, a performance by the Green Room Theatre Company’s Summer Conservatory, will be performed at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, July 24-26, with a two-for-one-ticket matinee at 1 p.m., Thursday, July 25, at Indio High School, 81750 Avenue 46, in Indio. Tickets are $20; or $13 for students or seniors. For tickets or more information, call 760-696-2564, or visit www.greenroomtheatrecompany.org.