On Theater: Passion for the stage

HB Independent

For more than a few actors and directors, community theater is less an avocation than a calling. One of the most notable in that regard is Stephen Reifenstein.

"I live with a passion for the stage, both on and off," he stated. "Theater is my life in so many ways."

Reifenstein, the executive producer of the Huntington Beach Playhouse, saw a production of "Bye Bye Birdie" at age 11 and was hooked. Small wonder, because Rosie was played by local legend Adriana Sanchez.

"A few months later, I auditioned for 'Charlotte's Web' at the La Habra Depot Theatre," he said. "I was cast as the photographer, had three lines and fell in love with theater."

That attraction saw Reifenstein devoting his youthful years to acting, running technology and eventually directing, starting with a children's production of "Winnie-the-Pooh."

These days, he has his hands full directing a host of youngsters in the Huntington Beach Playhouse's upcoming production of "Annie," opening June 25. The cast includes 28 performers, a dozen of whom are girls younger than 14 who will alternate as the orphans under the stern tutelage of the nasty Miss Hannigan.

For Reifenstein, his still-young career has been a labor of love — and the equivalent of a college education in musical theater.

"I always loved the process of theater and watched my directors," he said. "I asked a lot of questions to mentor directors like Terri Miller-Schmidt, Jack Millis and Larry Watts. They were always kind enough to give me any insight I needed."

After directing at various local venues for 15 years, Reifenstein turned his attention to producing, starting by heading the committee to select the current Huntington Beach Playhouse season. That landed him a seat on the playhouse's board of directors.

The board created the position of executive producer and tapped Reifenstein for the job.

"My goal is to rebuild the reputation of the Huntington Beach Playhouse as one of the best theaters in Orange County," he stated.

"I believe this season is a good indicator that my goals are being reached," he said. "We have had solid acting, directing and producing on all shows so far. We have hired a resident lighting designer, sound designer and stage manager."

The creative energy generated by Reifenstein has spread through the playhouse's board, which has formed several committees since he signed on.

"The board is growing with positive and creative forces," he stated.

Directing "Annie," which will run through July 25, promises to be the high-water mark of Reifenstein's career.

"I love working with all ages of actors, but I get so much fulfillment directing youth," he said. "To see the confidence grow in young actors is priceless and cannot be compared."

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