Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

Get ready to break out the bubbly - Sierra Repertory Theatre is turning 35.

The theater started in 1979 as the dream of five friends - Dennis and Sara Jones, Doug Brennan, and Kathryn and David Kahn - who shared a love of the stage. All five met at the Fallon House Theatre in Columbia while working there as staff and students in the University of the Pacific's summer stock program.

Today Sierra Rep plays a prominent role in the arts scene of the Central Sierra with a solid team of staff members, trustees, volunteers and donors. SRT continues to move forward, launching its first youth education program.

"We've grown and changed since our early days, but one thing remains the same: a focus on quality theater," said Dennis Jones, SRT's producing director. "It's about art. That's what drives this organization. It's about creating something on that stage that will stay with people."

Sierra Rep started as a vision of the friends who believed they had the right combination of drive and experience to start their own year-round theater. They quit various full-time jobs in the Central Valley and Bay Area, moved to a Sonora house together, and began to pull together resources to launch a debut season.

Their first production was "Dracula" in 1980. With 99 seats, six shows and 59 performances, 5,100 patrons saw SRT's first season, which also included "How the Other Half Loves," "The Glass Menagerie," "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," "Same Time, Next Year" and "The Naming of Names."

Sierra Rep's popularity continued to grow, and so did the theater. It hired professional staff, professional guest artists, added a second stage - the Fallon House Theater in Columbia State Historic Park - and did its part to contribute to the Tuolumne County economy by attracting more than half of its patrons from out of town.

Its latest accomplishment: More than 1 million tickets sold, not including the sold-out opening-night gala and premiere performance of "Les Miserables," set for March 1.

Another recent triumph is its new education program, called Sierra Repertory Theatre Jr. While SRT has long hosted shows for students, it held its first theater production with and for children late last year.

Under the direction of new Education Director Ralph Krumins - who played the lead in last season's production of "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" - 25 children learned about acting, music and dance during a series of workshops, culminating in a performance on Jan. 30.

SRT Jr. is in the planning stages for a spring break camp for children, as well as a traveling "trunk show" that will visit area schools. There also will be a series of summer workshops for children interested in theater.

What's next?

Jones assured patrons the theater will keep striving to stage quality productions - just as it always has.

"We throw ourselves in," he said, "and we think that's what makes our audiences enjoy what we do."

For more information about Sierra Rep, call 532-3120 or visit