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For over 58 years PCPA has been presenting exemplary theatre and providing excellent training with a resident company of theatre professionals.  From its beginnings in the fall of 1964 and first summer season in 1965, founder Donovan Marley laid the ground work for a year-round professional theatre company, following the insightful impulse of Allan Hancock College President Walter Conrad, “Because we are geographically isolated from population centers where artistic experiences are readily available to our students and our college patrons, we have an obligation to develop such experiences on this campus.”  The first company consisted of twenty-one actors, calling themselves the Platform Players. They converted an old barracks building into the Interim Theatre with seating for 100. The first production was A Man for All Seasons and enthusiastic standing-room only audiences packed all 10 performances.
The 1965-66 season was heralded as a season of firsts for the fledgling theatre company - its first musical, The Fantasticks, the first Theatre Wagon to begin its circuit of schools with a production of The Emperor's New Clothes, the first Equity artist-in-residence to join the company for Of Mice and Men, Vernon Weddle (pictured left), the first starring role in an Interim Theatre production for professional actress Rosalind Pearlman, and the first professionally choreographed show, Romeo and Juliet, by Agnes Grogan, who had studied and worked with Martha Graham and been a featured dancer in the Broadway premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!
In 1967 the conservatory began to accept students from outside the Allan Hancock College district and a technical program for sets, properties and costume construction was established adding new professional staff members. Recognizing the cultural and economic benefits of a theatre, Santa Maria voters approved a school bond in 1965 which included $1-million to build the Performing Arts Center building on the college campus eventually named the Marian Theatre, after Marian Hancock.

Plans for the new theatre were on the drawing board in 1966.  When completed, the theatre would seat 448 patrons around a thrust stage, based on Minnesota's Guthrie Theatre.  Doors opened on July 10, 1968 with a production of Camelot, featuring Laird Williamson as Lancelot.  It was in 1968 that the company was first called the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts.  The young company continued to see exponential growth in its audience year after year.
Invited by Roger Neilsen of the Solvang Businessmen’s Association, 1971 marked the first performance by PCPA, in Solvang's Hans Christian Andersen Park, of Hamlet.  Support for a permanent theatre space for PCPA productions grew quickly through the community -- fostered by Neilsen, Earl Petersen, Royce Lewellyn, Erling and Sue Pohls, Johannes Jaeger, John and Jan Severson, Vince Evans, together with the Santa Ynez Valley Arts Association and many others. 
In the summer of 1974, through an astounding outpouring of civic initiative, fund raising and hard labor, the Solvang Festival Theatre was constructed, in 58 days, on Second Street.  Artistic Director Donovan Marley instigated and oversaw the entire construction of the 700 seat outdoor venue. Though it does not include a basement level or ‘trap room,’ the architectural ‘footprint’ is nearly an exact replica of PCPA's Marian Theatre stage in Santa Maria.  The Theaterfest summer repertory season was inaugurated by a community Rejsegilde event and came to fruition with PCPA's production of Once Upon A Mattress, joined in repertory by The Taming of the Shrew and King Lear.  
Laird Williamson and Mark Harelik
During these early years, audiences witnessed the emergence and growth of some of today's biggest names in the entertainment field -- artists who have gone on to national prominence and hundreds of others who have taken on roles of national significance in the American theater.

In November 1992, the Severson Theatre was inaugurated as an addition to the Performing Arts complex on the Allan Hancock College campus. This intimate and flexible space has been the home for classic, contemporary and musical productions as varied as The Last Five Years, Arcadia, Master Class, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, Oleanna, Measure for Measure, The Turn of the Screw, Little Women, Distracted, All My Sons, Clybourne Park and PCPA's play reading series InterPlay. These absorbing and enlightening plays, alongside the rest of each season's offerings, support PCPA's commitment to providing the greatest possible variety in the learning environment and enjoyment in the play-going experience.
Leo Cortez, Ayme Olivo, Catalina Maynard
Ultimately, the history of PCPA is marked, not with the construction of buildings or even of organizations - however significant they may be - but in the force of life invested by generations of artists as a valuable feature of community life here on the Central Coast.  The building up of a community, and an American culture, enriched and illuminated by art made by well-trained artists has always been at the heart of the artistic and educational enterprise.  The company of over 50 theatre professionals is a team dedicated to enhancing community life and advancing the art of theatre from the studio to the stage.  Over 100 students are trained each semester in acting and technical theatre.  The tradition of the master craftsperson passing on their knowledge through daily practice of the art is as ancient as the arts themselves. In this tradition we work from experience to knowledge, rather than just from knowledge to experience - following the observation that "in the end we retain from our studies only that which we practically apply" (Goethe).
PCPA remains the only resident professional company on the Central Coast and the only training program of its kind offered at a community college -- producing exemplary artistic experiences for the community while preparing thousands of actors and theatre technicians for a career in theatre. You can enjoy a production at PCPA today, with the deeper enjoyment that you're glimpsing the seeds of a richer tomorrow.
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