Burbank theater helps build community, founder says

When she was 8 years old, Julia Swanwick had three lines in “The Three and a Half Musketeers,” her first theatrical production.

That kicked off a decade of theater during which she performed in nearly 30 plays and musicals. She played Miss Hannigan in “Annie,” the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz,” and Cinderella's evil stepmother.

Swanwick's hobby, though, was put on the back burner while she earned her master's degree in business administration and started her career. She now works in human resources at Disney ABC Television Group.

Recently, however, she realized just attending shows wasn't enough to satisfy her thirst for theater.

So she founded the Burbank Community Theater, and after raising nearly $8,000 in less than two months, Swanwick is gearing up for her nonprofit's first production — the musical “Annie” in December.

“I really wanted to get my hands dirty in theater again,” Swanwick said, adding that she believes there's a heavy appetite for theater in Burbank. “I really wanted to mimic the experience I had because I enjoyed it so much.”

Over a 45-day period starting in June, Swanwick and her team of five other board members raised $7,720 from 104 backers on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter, surpassing their $5,500 goal.

Donations came from as far away as Boston, as well as from a board member's relatives in Hong Kong, Swanwick said.

“They may never see a show, but they understand the power of being able to support a group that really builds the community,” she said. “It's more about meeting your neighbors, building a community, and being able to have a creative outlet, and less about who's on stage and who's in the audience.”

It's enough money to put on “Annie,” which she expects will generate funds for two more shows. Eventually, Swanwick hopes to produce four shows a year, including original works by local playwrights.

Upcoming seasons will include at least one all-inclusive musical, meaning there will be a spot for everyone who auditions, as is the case for “Annie.” Auditions earlier this month drew 109 people, including children and seniors, at all levels of experience.

The cast will rehearse three times a week at Robert Gross Park in Burbank.

“Annie” will run from Dec. 20-22 at the Forest Lawn Hall of Liberty. For more information, visit www.burbankcommunity theater.org.


Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

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