There’s Great Theater Right Here in Fremont

by Jaime Richards
Fremont Argus – September 4, 2004

Fremont is one of the larger cities in the country – we rank somewhere about 80th. We’re nearly the same size as Madison, Wis., Akron, Ohio, and Baton Rouge, La. – cities with an identity.

I live in Fremont but I’ve heard of Madison (the University of Wisconsin), Akron (tires and rubber) and Baton Rouge (the state capital). But I bet not many people living in those cities have heard of Fremont.

Which makes sense.

What do we have that makes us special? Nothing obvious, that’s for sure. We’re more famous, at least here, for what we don’t have than what we do have.

We don’t have any large museums, sports facilities, a major performing arts theater or a state of the art movie house. We don’t even have a mall!

But if you look, closely, you’ll find pockets of greatness.

The Fremont Police Department is excellent. Ohlone College is vastly underrated and  underappreciated. Parts of the magnificent East Bay Regional Park District are in our backyard. And we have Lori Stokes and the Star Struck Musical Theater.

I spent part of my summer living in my daughter’s Harlem apartment. While there, I saw two amazing Broadway plays – “Aida” and “Rent.” Not long after I got back to Fremont, I went to the the Ohlone College Amphitheatre to watch Star Struck’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie.”

You know what? For pure entertainment, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between Broadway and Star Struck.

I’m serious. Broadway has multimillion-dollar venues and elaborate, professional productions. But Star Struck is at least its equal when it comes to the performers’ passion

Our talent is right there, too. Andrew Sa, who played Harry Macafee, is developing into one of the finest, most complete young performers anywhere. His sister Laura, sings like an angel. Kristin Stokes, Rose in this production, is such a polished actress that we won’t have the chance to see her in local theater much longer.

And I’m only scratching the surface. The depth of talent in “Bye Bye Birdie” was surprisingly solid. The actors put their hearts into their roles. The music, choreography, costumes, scenery and staging all worked. The program was better than the traditional Playbill.

Even the ticket was a work of art that you wanted to keep.

Why? Leadership. It always starts at the top. Cliché, but oh so true. Great leaders change lives and Stokes changes lives. She’s put together a theater company that has a huge, positive affect on kids.

When we think “great leader,” we usually think big. Perhaps, though, the greatest leaders aren’t in charge of a city, state, country, corporation or army.

For reasons that aren’t that difficult to understand, leaders such as Stokes choose to teach small groups large lessons. Meaningful lessons in teamwork, friendship and living with passion.

The kids recognize that she’s special. Michelle Folleta, Susie in “Birdie,” pointed out what they all know and appreciate: “Our motivation was our director, Lori Stokes, who was supportive and helped us very much from the beginning until the last performance.”

If you’re looking for motivation, auditions for Star Struck’s next show, “Seussical, the Musical,” begin next Saturday. Call (510) 659-1319 for an appointment. The show runs in January.