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10.15.08

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Phaedra

Photograph by Michael Amsler
COMEDY TONIHGHT! 142's Lucy Mercer is particularly proud of her venue's opportunity for comics.

1-4-2 Go!

Rescued 142 Throckmorton becomes haven for comics, artists, musicians and playwrights

By David Templeton

The mission statement posted on the website for Mill Valley's 142 Throckmorton Theatre pretty much says it all. "142 Thockmorton is founded on the philosophy that theatre, music, dance, film, poetry, visual and related arts are essential components of a rich and rewarding life, and an indispensable part of human inspiration and education."

Couldn't have said it better ourselves, and 142 Throckmorton has been awarded a 2008 Boho Award precisely because of its commitment to the belief that the arts can be a force of good and a unifying influence within a community. Gorgeously refurbished, the 90-year-old site was originally a live theater, but for decades functioned as the Mill Valley Oddfellows Hall. Crumbling from the ground up and in serious need of repair, the building seemed destined for eventual demolition. Now it's a vibrant, eccentrically decorated hub of artistic activity, the reach of which extends far beyond Mill Valley.

"I'd never run a theater before in my life," says Lucy Mercer, owner and artistic director, "but I've always loved old buildings, and when I realized I could buy and restore this beautiful old place, I decided that the best thing for the community was not another office building but a place where local people and artists can come together and do wonderful, important, surprising things."

It can truly be said that there is no place in the North Bay quite like 142 Throckmorton, with daily happenings that run the gamut from theatrical productions, staged readings of new plays, rock band concerts, chamber music performances, lectures, forums and comedy nights. Comedy, in fact, is where 142 Throckmorton has made its biggest and loudest mark. Every Tuesday night is the Mark Pitta and Friends comedy showcase, a popular weekly event in which local comedians, hosted by comic Mark Pitta, take the stage to work on new material, be it standup routines, one-person shows or stage plays.

By design, the audience never knows who will be appearing on any given Tuesday, but it is well-known that the likes of Dana Carvey, Robin Williams, Paul Provenza and other big comedy stars are common visitors. Other Bay Area luminaries such as Will Durst and Geoff Bolt are regulars as well, hosting their own comedy nights, and last August and September, Robin Williams spent several nights at 142 honing material for a new tour.

"There aren't any places in Marin where comics have regular performance opportunities," Mercer says. "I'm especially proud of the place we've created here for comedians. On Tuesdays, the green room is full of young up-and-coming comedians, hanging out and swapping stories with more experienced comics. It's really wonderful."

Under Mercer's direction, the theater is also a major supporter of local nonprofits. Next week (Sunday, Oct. 26, at 6pm), a major fundraiser to fight breast cancer is featured. Called The Breast of Broadway, the musical revue will feature Broadway tunes from across the years, with local performers including Susan Zelinsky, Rana Kangas-Kent, Erika Alstrom, Erik Batz, Chaz Simonds and others.

Mercer's support of artists and performers goes beyond what she programs onstage. Over the last several months, she's given extra office space to a handful of painters and sculptors, converting the rooms to studios.

 

"My hope has always been that this building would be a focus of activity all the time," Mercer says. In addition to the nightly performances, the institution, which is a certified nonprofit, also offers the thriving New Playwrights Lab, a resident orchestra called the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble and has recently launched the Marin Youth Performers with classes and regular performances of musicals and plays by young people. "A community needs its artists," Mercer says, "as much as it needs policemen and firefighters."


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