Fremont Children’s Theater has Faithful Following

by W. Fred Crow, The Arts
Fremont Bulletin – September 28, 2002

In the beginning was Lori. And Lori loved children and the theater. And Lori combined her enthusiasm and energy, talents and training and founded the Star Struck Children’s Theatre in Fremont just seven years ago. And like a number of other community theater houses, Star Struck Children’s Theatre continues to grow and be successful serving the local area children and community.

The start of the Star Struck Children’s Theatre was inevitable. Lori Stokes’ focus on music and theater was constant through school. From a young age she enjoyed singing and experienced her first musical in high school. College followed where Stokes received a degree in theater from San Diego University. Says Stokes, “I love theater and wanted to learn all about it.”

After college, Stokes did some singing to earn a living and entered the world of community theater. Moving back to the Bay Area, Stokes married and entered motherhood, raising three children.

Her personal talents being known, Stokes was asked to sing at a fundraiser for the Fremont Education Foundation. Instead, she provided a well-received program featuring children. After the performance, mothers approached Stokes asking how their children could be part of the program. The idea appealed to Stokes and Star Struck Children’s Theatre began with just 12 young thespians.

At first, practicing in her living room, Stokes limited the program to a 30-minute musical review playing for retirement homes and small venues. During those first years, Stokes also entered competitions, winning the grand champion prize for the California Youth Focus Talent Competition., gold medals at the Showstoppers Regional Talent Competition, and the 1999 Young Artist Showcase for the City of Fremont.

The musical review toured for two years, “but…”, says Stokes, “…I wanted more.” So working with the Fremont-based Broadway West Theatre, owned by Paula Chenoweth, she produced her first staged production, “A Little Princess” in November, 1997. The entire run sold old.

With the enthusiastic community support for Star Struck Children’s Theatre, every show has been sold out since. Approximately 1,700 people attended the April 2002 production of “Annie Jr.” Currently, Stokes is trying to produce three shows a year. Each show is open to auditions where stage hopefuls read from a script, sing, and experience casting callbacks just like the big houses.

Interesting to note that five of the original 12 cast members are still with Star Struck.

Having permanent rehearsal and performance space seems to be the next big hurdle for the troupe. Limiting the continued growth and success of the company, they recently lost their rehearsal space to development progress.

Because of the itinerant fashion in which Star Struck Theatre has had to operate – not having a set location to rehearse and perform – Stokes relies on advertising and word of mouth. “The audience has to find me. I’ve really been lucky that people follow us,” says Stokes. having a stable theatrical environment will improve an already exciting program.

In addition, since the house survives solely on ticket sales and participant tuition, Stokes and company are looking for help. Star Struck, now a non-profit organization, seeks corporate sponsorship.

Stokes remains quite excited about Star Struck Children’s Theatre, even after seven years.

“The theater gives kids more opportunities. This is so great for them. There’s so much more to life than just school work … we become a family,” she says.

About herself Stokes adds, “I feel so fortunate I have the opportunity to do this. I have a family that supports me. I have the best of both worlds. I have a great family and I get to do what I love.”

The Star Struck Children’s Theatre’s written mission is to “provide excellent, accessible theater training for youth with high quality performances for family and the entire community… We place priority of the highest professional standards in all areas of production, and provide a positive environment in which young people can learn team work and communicat8ion skills and build self-esteem. Our programs give children of all ages an opportunity to work together and learn from each other.”

The next production by the Star Struck Children’s Theatre will be “Hansel and Gretel,” which opens Nov. 22 and runs through Dec. 7. For more information, call the box office at 659-1319 or visit their web site at www.starstrucktheatre.com.