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This is not your typical family-run business: Dad writes the scripts, mom runs the box office and the three kids perform with their father onstage.

But when Bob and Beverly Fraser bought the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama and Vaudeville Co. in September, they set out not only to provide family-oriented entertainment, but to do so with their own family.

At the theater on High Street--where the audience boos the villain, cheers the hero and clamors “hummana hummana” as the vamp appears--all five members of the Fraser clan toil together seven days a week to produce G-rated shows.


Daughter Katie, 17, stocks the concession stand. Beth, 20, acts as emcee and unofficial family chauffeur. And 14-year-old Scott, who comes to the theater after school and on weekends, runs behind stage and makes sure the props are in order.

And then there are the performances, with the children portraying everything from an elf who looks like James Bond to puppets shaped like vultures.

“They’re all big hams, just like their father,” says Bob Fraser with a proud smile as he sits in the box office sipping Pepsi.

This is no elegant playhouse for the fur-coat-and-tuxedo crowd. No, this is where you wear your flannel shirts and sweats, chow down on hot dogs, munch on popcorn and sip beer out of plastic cups.

But after years of writing television scripts for shows that were becoming increasingly sex-oriented, Bob Fraser jumped at the chance to buy the community theater company when it went on the market last year.

And here, in the theater, the members of the Fraser family have found something they long lacked: time together.




It’s a Sunday matinee, and only a few rows are filled in the 306-seat theater. The set is the fictional desert town of Yabuti in “Fenster of the French Foreign Legion,” a play written by Bob and his partner Tom Biener. The two wrote scripts together for the TV show “Love Boat.”

One of the jokes:

Fort leader: “Men, I have some bad news.”

Soldiers: “Oh no, has something happened to Jerry Lewis?”

And at $15 pay per performance, the actors aren’t the most seasoned. Many are local students, one is a DMV employee, another a computer programmer.

Along with the role of the goofy Capt. Marone, Bob, with gobs of dark eye makeup, is playing the evil Wazir, out to kidnap the fair Miss Pennyfeather, who is in love with Fenster, a member of the Foreign Legion.

Uniformed in a blue top, red sash and white pants, Scott is playing one of the four members of the legion. The two daughters are the voices for the vulture puppets who serve as narrators, Chirp and Burp. And Beverly is busy checking on the audience and the box office.

“The whole point of it was to have time together,” Bob Fraser says. Both sisters have delayed going to college to help at the theater. Katie put off going to Pierce College and Beth turned down her acceptance to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena.

But the two say it was worth it.


“We all went to separate jobs, got home late at night, saw each other 15 minutes in the morning and went to work the next day,” Katie said. “Now we get up in the morning and come to the theater and work things through. . . . It brought me closer to my family.”


During intermission, Beth and Katie rush to sell concessions. Then they scramble to bring out four Ding Dong cakes with candles so the birthday boys and girls in the audience can come onstage and make a wish. Afterward, the two sisters rush onstage, wearing fuchsia flapper costumes with feather boas, and sing songs about love.

Except for Scott, who still attends a private school in the San Fernando Valley, each member of the family typically puts in 11 or 12 hours a day, seven days a week. After school, Scott rushes to finish his homework in addition to his duties at the theater, which range from cleaning the toilets to performing.

This business, which Bob anticipates will bring in $80,000 by the end of the year, is the lifeline for all the family members.

For Beth, it means having more personal responsibility for the success or failure of an enterprise.

“It’s different from other work experiences,” Beth said. “Before, I felt like I was just an employee. Now I feel responsible for what happens.

“It’s a lot less stressful in some ways because I don’t worry that my boss will fire me,” Beth added. “But it’s a lot more stressful in that I may disappoint my family.”




During the 1970s, Bob and Beverly operated a playhouse called Meller Drammer, in the hamlet of Rockerville, S.D. About 12 miles away in Rapid City, they also ran The Toby Theater, where actors performed musicals. By the mid-70s, the couple longed for new opportunities and moved to Los Angeles.

They tried to open a comedy club on Hollywood Boulevard but lost all their savings after purchasing a crumbling building they couldn’t afford to salvage. After they closed it down, Beverly found out she was pregnant with Beth.

Bob began earning money for the family, playing bit parts in commercials: a Union 76 customer, an appreciative husband eating Betty Crocker cakes, even a small role as a Ku Klux Klan member in “All in the Family.”

“It was enough to keep hearth and home together,” Bob said. He also began writing television scripts, including for the comedies “Benson,” “Love Boat” and later, “Full House.”

In the 1980s, the Frasers tried to revive their dream of running a melodrama theater in Santa Fe, N.M. But they had problems not only finding a theater, but also drawing community support for the idea.

In the meantime, Bob said, it bothered him that television shows were becoming more mean-spirited and sex-oriented.


“They were headed in the direction of going toward sex and what they called pushing the envelope,” Bob said. “I disagreed with it then, and I disagree with it now. That’s why the audience has gone away.”

When asked to write a sitcom similar to “Married . . . With Children,” Bob said forget it.

When the Moorpark Melodrama and Vaudeville Co. became available, the Frasers pounced on it. Now they have an outlet for family shows and a chance to bring the theater back to its former glory, after a period of declining ticket sales.

“We want people to think and say, ‘When my friend comes to town, I’ve got to show them this,’ ” Bob said. “We want people to eat popcorn and shout and holler.”


This has meant sacrifices for the whole family, especially the children, who have given up school, social lives and free time to keep the family business running.

“Actually, I don’t mind,” said Beth. “I really don’t mind. We’re really close . . . and I love my family. It’s like a falling-down thing. Everyone’s always there to support each other.”