Have olio, will travel.
Orphaned by circumstance, the Troupers of the Gold Coast, the world’s oldest continuously performing theatrical company, are struggling to stay alive. The group performs hodge-podge olios, or variety shows, wherever and whenever someone will have them.
When California’s historic First Theatre, located in downtown Monterey, was closed for renovations in 2000, the Troupers, who had been performing in the space steadily since 1937, were cast out. The group was forced to put the bulk of their costumes, sets and props into storage, at a cost of $800 a month.
“We were told it was only going to be for a year,” says managing director Laverne Seeman. “That was five years ago.”
So like any good theater company, the Troupers have learned to improvise.
Although limited to olios and adrift without a permanent home, the Troupers remain in rehearsal and production full-time thanks to the dedication and commitment of Seeman and business manager Marabee Boone.
Seeman has been performing and directing with the Troupers for over 50 years, since 1952 and Boone since 1961. That’s nearly a century of combined experience. But both agree that the last five years have been the most challenging in the troupe’s 68-year history. The odds of the Troupers getting back into California’s First Theatre are slim and, as a result, the future seems a bit grim for the troupe. Nevertheless, Boone and Seeman appear resolved to forge ahead.
“For me it’s because the Troupers are a family,” Boone says. “Rehearsals and performances are not just performances, they’re the family getting together. It makes us happy to make others happy. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m out in public that someone doesn’t ask, ‘What’s going on with the First Theater?’”
According to Seeman and Boone, there are over 2,000 actors around the world who’ve graced the First Theatre’s boards as Troupers. (“Once a Trouper always a Trouper,” they say in unison.) Famous alumni include silver screen-era cinema stars such as Richard Boone (Dragnet, The Alamo, The Shootist), Bobs Watson (Boys Town, Dodge City, Men of Boys Town), and Steve Cochran (Carnival Story, Mozambique). Today, in its current nomadic state, there are about a dozen active Troupers, though Seeman and Boone are confident there is a pool of 100 or more Troupers still in the area they could draw from, if necessary.
“Once you get into it, it gets into your blood and that tradition takes over,” Seeman says.
Over the years, the Troupers have entertained tens of thousands, including a number of celebrities.
“Betty White is a fan,” Boone says, “She knew one of the ladies who used to be in the show. Kim Novack used to come because one of the Troupers was her plumber. She’d just come sit backstage.”
Even James Bond made an appearance one memorable evening.
“Sean Connery came in during rehearsal,” Seeman remembers. “We were just finishing up when there was a knock on the door, I opened it up and almost fell on the ground.”
Yet despite the troupe’s own celebrity and history, there was little they could do when the state of California evicted them at the turn of the millennium. The state owned the theater and it was badly in need of restoration.
The Troupers performed their last show at First Theatre on New Year’s Eve, 2000. When they left the theater, the Troupers launched a letter writing campaign to bring attention to their plight. They received hundreds of letters of support, including one piece of correspondence written on the royal letterhead of Scotland.
Five years later, the state still has no plans to renovate the theater. Officials estimate refurbishment costs in the $1 million range. As a result, the First Theatre isn’t a top priority. Eventually, however, it will be restored and the community will have the opportunity to decide what the building will be used for and a bidding process will take place.
Until then, the world’s oldest continuously performing theater troupe can only hover in “Traveling Trouper Limbo” and keep their skills sharp with vaudevillian olios.
“We’ll perform anywhere,” Seeman says. “Give us a call.”
THE TROUPERS OF THE GOLD COAST CAN BE REACHED AT 375-8329. OLIOS CAN BE PRODUCED SPECIFICALLY FOR ANY GROUP OR EVENT, OR THEY OFFER A VARIETY SHOW.