Rod Lathim has a long-time passion for the arts, and as a playwright/director/producer since 1979, he enjoys sharing that passion with Santa Barbara. An alumnus of Santa Barbara Junior High School and past student of theater teacher Marjorie Luke, he now serves as Board President of the Marjorie Luke Theatre. Lathim was kind enough to sit down with Quinisha Jackson-Wright of the Santa Barbara Foundation to share his thoughts about the theatre, what it means to him, and how he believes it impacts Santa Barbara’s arts community.
Quinisha Jackson-Wright: What sets the Marjorie Luke Theatre apart from other arts organizations?
Rod Lathim: We started 15 years ago and were dubbed the “People’s Theatre.” At the Luke, you will see the most diverse cross-section of artists and audiences in Santa Barbara County. We were created to be affordable and youth- friendly. Our artists range from students, to senior citizens, to adults with disabilities, to seasoned, award-winning professionals. We also attract the largest, multi-generational, Latino audiences with the annual Viva El Arte free series produced by UCSB Arts & Lectures. Our staff is known for welcoming and nurturing new, producing groups and assisting them in every aspect of production to ensure successful events.
QJW: How has the Theatre helped in facilitating more access to its programs for Santa Barbara nonprofits?
RL: One of our goals was to create a structure at the Luke that would make it as self-sustaining as possible, but also affordable for the community to use. We were the first theatre to create a rent subsidy program in Santa Barbara and have given more than $310,000 to use this high-quality venue. The Dreier Family sponsored our Fund and it is named in their honor. The Luke currently averages between 20-30 rent subsidy grants per year to nonprofit organizations.
QJW: Can you tell us more about the efforts to renovate the Theatre?
RL: Back in 2003, the board wanted to raise funds to buy a new lighting system, only to find there were more issues than lighting. We realized it needed a lot of work , and raised about $4 million. SBJHS alum/actor Anthony Edwards was our lead donor and named the theatre after our inspirational theatre teacher Marjorie Luke. The Bryan Family (whose children were SBJHS students) funded the beautiful new Foyer. We gutted the theatre, kept the bones, and redid everything from the ground up, installing new electrical, sound, video, rigging, curtains, custom painting, and wrought iron fixtures. The original bentwood seats were renovated, and now provide more legroom than any theatre in town. There was a tremendous amount of community support, including from the Santa Barbara Foundation, to make it all possible.
QJW: What funding support do you have in place to maintain the Theatre?
RL: We have a Sustainability Fund that I would like to build to $1 million over the next few years. This fund will be used to cover expenses for equipment replacement. One of our most generous donors established this Fund. It’s a great way to invest in something that will have a long-term impact on a very important cultural institution.
QJW: How do you think the arts influence youth in Santa Barbara?
RL: The arts nurture and support the human spirit, and encourage us to communicate and create directly with one another. Our youth need an outlet to have a voice, to create and feel empowered. I see dreams take stage at The Luke on a regular basis. So many young people who cut their teeth on our stage have gone on to create amazing careers in theatre, television and film. We have a new series of video profiles of many of these people at luketheatre.org.
QJW: What are some upcoming projects or endeavors planned for the Theatre?
RL: We are developing a collaboration with The Music Academy of the West’s SING! Program with area elementary school students in a wonderful choral program. We also collaborate with Boxtales Summer Theatre Camps to provide robust theatre training for youth. In addition, we will host the first TEDx Youth Santa Barbara event in 2019/20. Fifteen years ago, all we had were a bundle of hopes and dreams and now The Marjorie Luke Theatre has a strong track record of being “The People’s Theatre” serving both Santa Barbara Junior High and the whole community with a top notch venue. I love sharing the legacy of The Luke and look forward to sustaining it for years to come.