TimBen Boydston
Director of Operations, Canyon Theatre Guild

Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Multimedia Editor

Sunday, December 19, 2004
(Television interview conducted November 30, 2004)

TimBen Boydston     "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmaker is TimBen Boydston, director of operations for the Canyon Theatre Guild. The interview was conducted Nov. 30. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.

Signal: Let's dispense with this first. Is it Tim, or is it Ben, and why can't you pick one first name?

Boydston: You're going to dispense? Does that mean that I don't have to answer?

Signal: Please do. Say something. Anything. Make something up.

Boydston: People are always asking that. A long number of years ago when I first moved back to Santa Clarita — because I grew up here; (went to) Sulphur Springs Elementary, Placerita Junior High School, Canyon High School and College of the Canyons — when I came back I actually ran for office, and I ran for office under the name Tim, which is my first name.

Signal: I have some vague recollection of that.

Boydston: And I want to thank the 600 people who voted for me. That was very good of you.

Signal: Weren't you running for City Council or something like that?

Boydston: It was actually City Council, and I even ran for county supervisor when they tried to form the new county (Canyon County). That was a long time ago. It was very exciting.

Signal: So you've been running for office since — was that 1976 or '78?

Boydston: I don't remember what year that was.

Signal: The second time or first time they tried to form the county?

Boydston: I think it was the second time (1978), and I learned an important lesson about politics: It takes money to win an election. Even if you have a little money, you need a little money, and I tried basically to run those campaigns with no money. And thanks to The Signal running that fun editorial thing that they did for City Council, about 600 people voted for me, and on my positions that I answered the questions — and that was very fun.

Signal: The ones where you answered the questions as opposed to the ones where you ducked the questions?

Boydston: I never duck the questions except for some of the comedy questions when they used to run that in The Signal (Escape section), which was also fun.
    Anyway, I ran as Tim Boydston because that's as I grew up, but when I was in college, the first major musical production that I was in, there were three Tims in the cast. So I said, call me Ben. That became my stage name. Everyone I went to college with knows me as Ben Boydston. I used that when I went to the theater here, up the canyon, 18 years ago, when I first volunteered there, and I became Ben Boydston.

Photo Illustration
[Click for Photo Illustration by Bryan Kneiding]
    That, of course, led to the inevitable question — when people ran into me, they'd go, "Do you have brother?" thinking that I had a brother who ran for council and looked a lot like me, or something like that. So, eventually I began calling myself Tim Ben, and someone in the paper, I don't remember who, put the names together, so I've been going by that and there's no confusion.

Signal: So now, when you're downwind of the council dais, lobbying for money for the Canyon Theatre Guild, do people call you Tim or Ben or TimBen?

Boydston: Sometimes they call me worse names than that. Usually not when the camera's on. No, they will generally call me Tim, Ben, or TimBen, depending on what they know me from. People in the theater will still come up and call me Ben.

Signal: Does "director of operations" mean you run the place?

Boydston: Yes, on a day-to-day (basis), I'm in charge of the Canyon Theatre Guild.

Signal: You're paid to do that? That's your job?

Boydston: Yes, absolutely. I'd better be paid, because it's at least two full-time jobs, every single day. It's a very big job, and I've been doing that for about six years now.

Signal: If you were running for office 25 or 30 years ago, you didn't come to the Guild straight out of college —

Boydston: No, I actually have a degree in theater and almost have a degree in business, and I had several businesses of my own. I did theater on the side or, even though I have a degree in it, did it for fun, for the love of it, and still do it for the love of it. Because there's no money theater. And I really had the pleasure of becoming paid, eventually, in theater, about six years ago when the Theatre Guild decided to go ahead and institute a full-time, paid position.

Signal: So the Guild is your first full-time theater job.

Boydston: It's the first time I've been paid full-time for the theater, although I did a few little paying acting things here and there.

Signal: You've taken the Guild through an impressive growth period. The theater was way out in the boonies, nine miles up Sierra Highway, and you moved it to Newhall.

Boydston: Yeah. It was eight miles from the nearest stoplight. We parked in the dirt there, and in the winter you parked in the mud when it rained. We appreciate, really appreciate, all those people who stuck with us those years and came and saw our shows up there. Because of them, we're still here.
    We knew being that far away and renting, eventually, if we wanted to have a home of our own, the theater realized that we have to have paid staff, and we have to become a more professional organization so that we can (a) go borrow money from banks, and (b) go ahead and write grants and raise money from individuals and businesses. And that's something they realized.
    But I was volunteering at the theater as a volunteer, before I started getting paid, for about 12 years.

Signal: Coming to Newhall was really coming "back" to Newhall; didn't the Guild start in Newhall 30-some years ago?

Boydston: Thirty-four years ago. 1970. And actually the summer between the first and second season, I did a play at the Canyon Theatre Guild as a young teenager, called "18th Summer." We did it Hart High School, where we did the first few shows that we did in Newhall, even before The Rafters. Hart had 900 seats, and there were — I remember one particularly great performance, there were six people in the audience.

Signal: But you were actually outgrowing the Sierra Highway location where the theater been since about 1986, right?

Boydston: Yes. That's one of the reasons why we were looking for other places. We were growing — but very slowly, nothing like the growth that took place after they hired me and we started raising our profile in the community. And then when we moved, of course, then it shot up. But we were growing quite dramatically. Since I started working for the Theatre Guild, we've grown by 10 times. We had a couple of hundred season ticket holders; now we have 1,000 season ticket holders.

Signal: How many different performances do you stage during the year?

Boydston: We do nine full productions, not counting our workshop productions. We do three musicals each year and three non-musicals in our regular season, and three family shows in our family season.

Signal: Are the family shows musicals, too?

Boydston: Sometimes there's a musical in there. Generally speaking, out of the nine shows, we will do three or four musicals and five non-musicals. That's kind of the ratio. It flips back and forth; sometimes its five-four, occasionally. We have done years where we have done 10 shows, on occasion; we will probably do that next season. We will probably do 10 shows. We found that to do all of the variety of genres for the audience we serve now, that's how many shows we end up doing.

Signal: How many patrons do you see in a year?

Boydston: That's the good part. We had 35,000 ticketed patrons who came to downtown Newhall last season, and that was one of our selling points to the city when we were trying to do grant funding. We told them, we will bring 10,000 people here the first year; we actually brought 15,000 the very first year, in the year 2000, in the millennium year. We had our new home open right at the end, in November of 2000, so now in this last year that we just finished, we had 35,000 ticketed people who came through to see our shows.
    In addition to our regular shows, we do summer youth workshop shows for ages 6 to 17, and we do after-school workshop shows for kids in both grade school — we're doing, next season, our first after-school (workshop) for grade school. We've done junior high and high school after-school programs. Then we also do our daytime program, which is called Adventures in Theater. That's (for) home-schooled children who aren't in a regular school structure setting. They come to our classes and they work with us and learn on how to put on a professional-gauge show. (We also) invite various schools in the area, and then they bus their students in to see literature-based programming.
    We're going to be doing "James and the Giant Peach" next semester, and we just finished "The Wind in the Willows." We do titles that kids usually read in the grade schools, and they're done by a combination of adults who are available during the day as actors, and college students who are actors, and also kids who are as actors from the home schools. That kind of merges a lot of different populations together, and last year I think we had about 4,000 people come and see that — 4,000 students.

Signal: Do you run any of these education programs in concert with the schools? Or do parents sign up their kids directly with the Guild?

Boydston: They generally come to the Theatre Guild and sign their kids up with us, although we put our information in the school district. We do not do anything formalized. We have, in the past, done some programs where we toured through the school with special programs, and there's a really great program that we're doing right now; that has to do with teaching teachers how to put musicals on in their classrooms, to teach various things in the grade schools.
    We work with the Saugus District, and my wife Ingrid — who was Teacher of the Year (in) 1989, a little plug there — she's the head of (the Guild's) summer programs, and she works in our outreach to teachers. ... They put these programs on to teach the teachers how to put a musical on in the classroom. They actually are just finishing up — I probably shouldn't blow the big surprise, but they're just finishing up taping this program where they're putting together a musical that is called "Santa Clarita: The Musical," because the third graders in our valley study the history of Santa Clarita. And we make sure that —

Signal: It's all about how Tim, or Ben, or TimBen, ran for office once upon a time —

Boydston: I don't think I'll make that; maybe the next century. About the time, Leon, when you come up and your name is in that musical,, then we'll probably be in that song together, O? You and the (Old Town Newhall) Gazette and the Theatre Guild.
    So, that's very exciting because that's the sort of thing that we're doing with a professional publishing company, and they're going to publish this, and then all the third graders in Santa Clarita will be able to put this on and learn about the history of Santa Clarita.

Signal: The Guild has become a family affair for you; forgive me, you have one or two children now?

Boydston: I have one, and she's three now. Anna Lynn.

Signal: Have you got her on stage yet?

Boydston: Just as a baby, as a walk-on. We want to wait until she's sure she's ready to do that. If it skips a generation, she might be a softball player, a doctor —

Signal: A politician?

Boydston: Whatever she wants to be.

Signal: You mentioned bringing the Canyon Theatre Guild along structurally as a more professional organization, yet you are the community theater. Who are the actors on stage? You don't use professional actors, do you?

Boydston: Oh, but we do use professional actors, actually. We just use professional actors who (a) do not have a contract that forbids them from acting in the shows for free, and-or (b) used to do it, and found that they couldn't make a good enough living at it.
    We have all range of actors. We have, for instance, Greg Finley, who is a voice-over actor, and has done some films and things in the past, but makes his living doing voice-over acting and directing. He's done over 1,000 pieces: commercials and television shows. He makes his living as an actor, but because he's not part of the Screen Actors Guild, active right now, he's able to come in and work in the (Theatre) Guild. And there are some people who do that.
    Also some people who used to make their living as actors and work on stage and on the board (of directors). Steve Marshall is a good example. He writes for KNX right now, and he did a show for me, "The Diary of Anne Frank." But he's also a professional actor who had worked prior, making his living doing that, but then realized, "Hey, I have to make a real living, and I have a family to support." And you know how difficult that is for an actor; you really have to make it big before you can make that kind of a living.
    Being right on the cusp of Los Angeles, we get a lot of people who were in the business, are trained as actors, but just do it for love. They live out here, and our array of actors, some of them have been with us for 20 years. They're classically trained in theater. They're not the only actors that we use; it's just that we have a mix of that. You could walk on stage — in fact, you have been on stage before — you can just come on and get a bit part or walk-on or you can get, if you were very good and have a natural talent for it, you can come off the street and go ahead and work at the Canyon Theatre Guild.
    So, it's a mix between people who are completely brand new, all the way to people who have 40 (or) 50 years experience. I think there's a big distinction that I think is drawn between professional and nonprofessional —

Signal: Or "professional" and "community" —

Boydston: Or professional and community. I prefer not to think of it as professional acting, community theater or educational theater; I just like to think of it as good theater and bad theater.
    That's the key. I mean, I've seen some really great theater in high school, and I've seen some really poor theater at the Ahmanson. So it's just about what is good and bad theater. Obviously there are some production value things — the more money that you spend on something — if you start paying your actors, or if you were going to a set that cost $10,000, the production values are going to be much higher. However, the ticket prices are going to be higher, too. And that's the key. The key is to make sure that we keep our ticket prices available to families that want to see live theater, and that's a really important thing for us.
    So, although we raise the level of the bar professionally to say it has to be a certain caliber, as good as we can possibly make it, also there is a bar that we don't want to push above, because we want to make sure that the theater is always accessible to everyone cost-wise, expense-wise. So yeah, we get a lot of actors, and when the (Santa Clarita) Repertory Theatre was doing a professional acting troupe down the street, there's a lot of the actors that are the same actors that work in both places. It's not as much of a distinction as some people like to draw.
    We like to think that the "community" part of what we do, we like to think of that aspect not so much amateur actors, but the community aspect being that we give back to the community. In other words, all of our workshop programs, for instance, have 10 percent scholarship students; we go to the Boys and Girls Club and we say, "Can you give us kids who are at risk, kids who are in financial need that we think it would be good for them to do a theater program?" And we give them the scholarship so they can send these kids, 10 percent of all our things. That's a commitment we have to the community: working with other groups and doing collaborative efforts. That's also a mission.

Signal: What is the mission of the Canyon Theatre Guild?

Boydston: The mission of the Canyon Theatre Guild is to provide quality, live theater to the citizens of the Santa Clarita Valley. It's a pretty broad mission statement, but we like the fact that it's broad in that it gives us liberality to serve a lot of different groups and constituencies, like I was saying.
    A good example is the (SCV) Artists Association. When we were building the theater, they supported us a lot, and we wanted to support them and not make it just a place for performing arts but make it a place for visual arts, as well. So the hallway, as you walk into the main auditorium, is always lined with local artists' productions, their pieces. ... The Santa Clarita Artists Association handles the art and changes the art every two months, but when someone displays there, their work is going to be seen by anywhere from between 3,000 and 5,000 people.

Signal: Working with these different organizations, and getting community people on stage — they tell their friends, and they tell their friends — is that the key to your success?

Boydston: Sure. Absolutely, that is a key. Absolutely, that's a very good thing to do, marketing-wise, is to get as many people involved in the art form as possible so that they remember you. You know, if you're going to take the family to a holiday thing, you say, "Oh, maybe the theater has a play to see," or something like that. Involving those people is very important in spreading the word in what fun, good things that we do.
    However, you have to be very careful. Just because Leon does a bit part in a play for great fun and to great effect, that does not mean that we would be able to use you unless you auditioned and you were exceedingly good in one of our dramas, for instance, or in a lead for a musical. Because the quality level of the people that do the lead work in our main stage shows is very high. It used to be in the olden days, maybe when we were in the canyon, you could cast a certain person and they could bring their family and friends, and that would be a big percentage of your audience — that could be about 50 (or) 60 people — would be a big percentage of your audience. But we just finished the run of "Grease," and 8,000 people came and saw it. And most of those people are not involved.

Signal: You used a lot of high school and college-age actors in "Grease." Do you have success stories of people who've gone through the Canyon Theatre Guild program and went on to become somebody?

Boydston: We have some people who have come through the Canyon Theatre Guild, that you'll see them, but nobody really famous yet. And I say "yet" because I'm sure that it won't be too many years before someone's going to be able to say, that person actually came up through the ranks and did shows as they were growing up and trained in our workshops and stuff.
    We have had a number of people who are in TV and in the movies in smaller parts, but not people you would recognize. I'm not able to say we have our Dustin Hoffman or our Julia Roberts. But we will.

Signal: Redevelopment. Before you joined the Guild as a full-time staff person, you were involved in redevelopment somewhere else?

Boydston: Elsewhere? I was involved in redevelopment in both Santa Monica — because I was in commercial property management as my day job and commercial property development — and also in Hollywood. So, actually, there were two different redevelopment agencies that I worked in: one that was really successful in Santa Monica as a redevelopment agency, and one that wasn't as successful, in Los Angeles. In Santa Monica — 3rd Street Promenade, I managed a couple of properties down there and sat in on the grass-roots formation committees, to say what it should look like. I helped create the vision of what that is now. So, that's very exciting to see.

Signal: How well is redevelopment working in Old Town Newhall, and what contribution can the Guild make to the effort?

Boydston: Well, our contribution has been, obviously, to bring, in the evening time, to Old Town Newhall, 35,000 people who paid for tickets to come there, and people from the middle class who wouldn't necessarily have come to downtown Newhall. Because there wasn't much there for them, up until this point. We have a lot of people who have come down there to partake of an evening of theater, which is really exciting.
    As far as our part in redevelopment, we are one of the first — the Repertory Theater being the other that's down there — to have someone come in for the evening trade. Other than the supermarket down the street, there's not very many things that stay open in the evening at this time.
    What I'm excited about is the new plan that the city has just put through, their new specific plan that they're going to releasing in December (or) January. ... This is an overhaul of the entire area by some very excellent planners, and we are real excited about being a part of that. And we are very excited about the fact, also, that the city is going to be doing the street art festival there next year, to put the chalk paintings on the pavement in Old Town Newhall. We're going to be a big part of that promotionally, as well as helping out as volunteers, to make sure that that street festival is a great, big success. We look forward to our part being very, very big.

Signal: There has been talk of an arts district in Newhall, anchored by two theaters — and then just one, with the demise of the Repertory Theatre. Now the Rep will be reopening under new management as the Repertory East Play House, in the same 81-seat theater space. Didn't the Guild have its eye on that space when it was available?

Boydston: Well, we looked at the space, and we didn't want it to not be a theater. We actually made it known that if nobody wanted the space as a theater, we would be willing to look at it, to make it a second space, because it is something that has been in our plans now for a little while, and we will be continuing to look to that because we would like to have a second space where we could do more experimental theater, where we don't have to worry about having to fill 280 seats —

Signal: Experimental? Avant-garde? Adult?

Boydston: I don't know about adult, but avant-garde, and just stuff that is not going to appeal to as broad a spectrum of people as our regular season does, so it would give us a little more flexibility. That's something we're still going to be doing. We're still going to be creating space, possibly out of our buildings, or finding another place on the street for a smaller venue.

Signal: In downtown Newhall?

Boydston: Yes. Oh, yes. We want it in downtown Newhall. I don't think it can be called a "district" if we don't have a few more arts venues there. But we have to start somewhere.

Signal: Does it help or hurt the Canyon Theatre Guild to have a competing theater in the old Rep space?

Boydston: It helps immensely. The Repertory is never in competition with us. Of 81 seats, the types of plays that they do are much smaller in scope. And even if they do a type of play that is a similar genre — if it's a comedy, or if it's a small musical — it doesn't hurt us, because in the canons of theater there are thousands of thousands of theater titles, and there are a lot of popular theater titles as well, that can draw the people. The fact that we only have a two spaces is hopefully only a matter of time before we can get more than two spaces that are filled with theaters.

Signal: How do you select what you're going to show? Do you have some kind of sanitation committee to make sure it's clean enough for Santa Clarita?

Boydston: Over the number of years that we have been here, we understand something very important. That is, we serve a family audience. Because most of Santa Clarita is made up of families. So, most of the things that we do are targeted for families. And maybe if it's a little more adult — maybe it's a comedy that's maybe a little more adult for families — we are always very cautious and very much tell people, "This is a more adult piece. This is not suitable for little kids." Or, if it's a really heavy drama, like when we did "The Diary of Anne Frank," this is not for very young kids. They're not going to sit through this.
    It's a matter of knowing your audience, and what your audience wants, and serving your audience. Too many people think that the art form of theater is their soap box to stand up and preach, or a classroom to teach, and it can be. It can be a great place to learn a lesson. When you see "Fiddler on the Roof," if you don't go away saying that we need to understand what tolerance is, and how to understand people who have a different religion or color or anything else — obviously, you could put that message in, sometimes, in your plays. But generally speaking, you want to do theater that people will come see.
    How do we select it? We ask the people, to begin with. We put surveys out to our audience and let them pick from a whole series of titles, let them suggest titles, and then we look and see what is selling, and we look and see what people are doing a lot of. What has been made into a movie is helpful, sometimes; if it's Disney, it's helpful. Things like that: just making sure people will come see it.

Signal: What's on stage now for Christmas?

Boydston: We're doing "The Miracle on 34th Street." It runs from now until Dec. 22, and it's a wonderful show. Then we're doing Shakespeare in January. You'll want to see that.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

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