VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND : Renaissance Group Gets Listeners in Tune With the Past : Measure for Measure is entertaining audiences with pre-1650 music at intermissions for 'Romeo and Juliet.'

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The production of "Romeo and Juliet" playing this weekend and next at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza includes a bonus: intermission music by members of Measure for Measure, Ventura County's home-grown Renaissance minstrel group.

Musical director Jaye Hersh founded Measure for Measure in 1990 as an adjunct to the Ojai Shakespeare Festival, which receives all of the group's performance fees.

In addition to each summer's festival, the group plays at private parties, community and other special events. They've performed as far away as the Renaissance Faire in Marin County, and are planning to record their first compact disc, for their own label, next month.

Their repertoire is restricted to "Anything pre-1650," says Hersh, and is "material covering everything from liturgical music to street songs," sung in French, English, Latin and Italian. "Some of the best music of the time was really bawdy," she notes wistfully, "but where can you sing it?"

Hersh, a native Texan, who attended Texas Tech as a theater and voice major, has lived in Ventura County since 1985. "After college," she explains, "I headed West until I hit the ocean."

She became involved in the Ventura County theater scene and still occasionally acts. And, she's musical director for a USC staging of "Godspell," directed by Ojai Shakespeare Festival's artistic director, Paul Backer. But most of her performing time is spent with Measure for Measure.

A typical performing group numbers about a dozen singers. Between 40 and 50 people have sung with the group through the years, and they range from 11 years old to retirement age and live from Ojai to Hollywood (they rehearse in Ventura).

"People hear us and want to join," says Hersh. "Then we tell them how much work is entailed, and about half of them lose interest.

"We're a little community all by ourselves. The group really functions as a family--our activities are 70% musical and 30% social."

'Bird' Flies: The first play out of the local chute this year will be hard to top. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is the most ambitious production to be presented at Thousand Oaks' tiny Arts Council Center in many years, with a large cast, and major (by the center's standards) sets, lights and sound.

Moreover, director Georgeanne Lees has found a highly capable cast, mostly newcomers to local stages, at a time when several other companies are dipping into the local talent pool. Several of the actors are children.

Amanda Bynes stars as Scout, who is growing up in small-town, Depression-era Alabama and is witness to a nasty racial incident in which her father, attorney Atticus Finch, is called upon to defend a poor black man.

Standout performances are also delivered by Larry Swartz as Atticus, Kathryn Dippong as narrator Maudie, Teri Reisser as the town gossip, and Laura Tennenhouse as cantankerous neighbor Mrs. Dubose. Also notable are Ogie Hudson, very strong as the defendant; Michael Moore as Rev. Sykes; and Gabriel Vega and Sarah J. Wilson as the town's chief racist and his daughter.

* "To Kill a Mockingbird" continues at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 7 Sunday nights through Jan. 20 at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Road in Thousand Oaks. There will also be a performance at 8 p.m. Jan. 18. Tickets are $10; $8 for students. Post-show discussions with the cast may be arranged for student groups. Reservations are mandatory in the 44-seat theater. Call 499-4355.

Casting Call: The Moorpark Melodrama will hold auditions Sunday, for "Gone with the Gust." For further information, call 529-1212.

The Conejo Players will hold auditions Jan. 21-23 for its production of "The Secret Garden," to run Thursdays through Sundays, April 5-May 11. For further information, call Devery at (818) 991-1909.

A new company is forming to produce interactive murder mysteries in the Ventura area. Actors (all ages, with an ability to improvise from a script) should contact Terri Taylor at 642-5402 for audition information.

Comedy Tonight Productions is casting its all-senior production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." Director Rebecca Hanes is auditioning by appointment only. For further information, call 889-3193.

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