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Leslie Berra’s SCV swan song

A champion of community theater sees the curtain come down on her time in the Santa Clarita Valley

Posted: August 4, 2013 2:41 p.m.
Updated: August 4, 2013 2:41 p.m.

Leslie Berra prepares to pack up her theater awards and memorabilia in her Angelica Place home in Valencia. Photo by Jonathon Pobre

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Leslie Berra has been packing up her collection of artistic theatrical masks, her Goldie Awards and other theater memorabilia in preparation for her Tuesday move from her Valencia home to Nolensville, a suburb of Nashville, Tenn.

Berra’s husband Bob Berra landed a new job and has been commuting between Nashville and Valencia for nine months.

"My husband is very excited about the move," she said. "He said it’s like Mayberry."

Berra has been a fixture on the Santa Clarita Valley theater scene since she started appearing in productions at the Canyon Theatre Guild.

Her last SCV production "9 to 5" will hold its final performance Aug. 17 at the Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall. Berra, on The Rep’s advisory board, directed the musical.

The Berras moved to the SCV in 1985. The couple have two children, Nikki, 22, and Jackson, 11.

Nikki will stay in Southern California, but Jackson will move with the couple to Nashville and start sixth grade in the fall.

Berra is a fierce supporter of community theater.

"Community theater is such a wonderful thing. There are so many of us that have that passion to create, it’s like a fire that burns inside of you that needs to get out," she said. "It’s a great place to hang out and make new friends. It should be appreciated for what it is, the joy of coming to the theater to see your teacher, your dentist, your mailman on stage."

She served on the board of directors of the Guild and worked with the Guild’s youth programs.

Her first experience with the Guild came when Berra and her daughter, then 6, auditioned for "The Wizard of Oz."

"We both were cast in the show" she said. "My daughter loved the experience and so did I. After 'The Wizard of Oz' I got sucked into the theater and went from singing to vocal directing, then to assistant directing, to directing to being in charge of all sorts of things."

Berra is also a huge proponent of youth theater.

She founded a youth cabaret fundraiser to fund youth programs at the Guild.

"It was really important to me to make that program affordable for kids," she said. "Most of the kids that really need these programs can’t afford them."

One her most successful fundraisers was the 2007 "Seize the Day Junior Cabaret" which raised $24,000.

After seeing how hard students worked on "Seize the Day" Berra decided to give them a chance to sing whatever songs they wanted in a special showcase called "The Gift of Song."

The event was designed to allow students aging out of the CTG youth program to have a venue to perform without the pressure of having to raise money.

The showcase became so popular she produced 10 of the "Gift of Song" productions.

"My last one was just this past March," she said.

Not technically a fundraiser, the event collected food for the SCV Food Pantry, toys to needy children at the holidays and voluntary donations for the Repertory East Playhouse.

"I was very proud of those productions," she said.

Berra stared working with the Repertory East Playhouse in 2006 with "You’re Perfect, Now Change."

She was then asked to direct "The Full Monty."

"It was the first show I had done with adults," she said. "Up until then I had only directed kids."

Berra said she has especially enjoyed her time at The Rep.

"I’ve worked on most of their recent musical productions,’ she said. "I’ve appreciated working at The Rep because of the freedom, the trust, the subject matter is more mature. As much as I enjoyed the family-friendly audiences at the Guild I do like some of the edgier material. It’s amazing what they do in that small space at The Rep."

In addition to her work with the community theaters she has worked with the theater department at Valencia High School.

She started helping out at Valencia when her daughter became involved in high school theater, but she continued to volunteer after he daughter graduated.

Berra’s community service has also included volunteering on the Celebrity Waiter Dinner Committee to benefit programs at the SCV Senior Center.

Berra was born in Washington state. She was the youngest of eight children and grew up in Bremerton, Wash.

"It was a small town where everybody knew everybody," she said.

She inherited her vocal talents from her parents, both of whom she described as "aspiring performers."

"It is in our blood," she said. "Every one of the kids is a performer, an actor, singer or musician."

After her father retired from the military the family moved to San Diego.

She met her husband when her sister invited her to a dinner in Los Angeles.

"We met at a Benihana’s in Encino," she said. Their relationship bloomed quickly.

"Six weeks later we started dating, six weeks later I moved to Los Angeles, six weeks later I moved in with him and six weeks later we were engaged. We were married nine months later and moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1985," she said.

Berra had a long career at CBS Television where she worked in music clearance.

"I started out as a clerk and worked my way up to become the Director of Music Operations West Coast," she said.

After daughter Nikki started first grade Berra left her job.

As she prepares to leave the SCV, Berra said she is most proud of her work with the youth of the SCV.

Berra said she put on more than a dozen fundraisers to help the Guild’s youth programs and also enjoyed directing youth.

"I really like working with kids," she said. "I was always the one who wanted to do the family shows."

She also was proud of being able to direct "Rent" and "Chicago" at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center.

"It was important to me to be able to do those shows without altering any of the material," she said. "It meant a lot to me to be able to do those shows as written, to keep the theatrical integrity."

Berra said audiences need to take responsibility and be aware of what they are going to see.

"We had some people walk out, but it was okay," she said.

Berra said her first action when she gets back to Nolensville will be to unpack.

"That could take three months," she said.

Berra has been researching her new community and said she has found the area rich with theater.

"I’m going to get to know the theaters and hopefully be able to get on stage again," she said. "I’d love to sing again. I don’t get to sing as much as used to. Then I’ll just see what happens."

Berra said she is excited at the thought of being able to go into Nashville on a Saturday night and every week find a new place to hear live music.

"I’m just excited to go and listen to music," she said. "I’m also looking forward to learning new things."

Berra said she will return to the SCV from time to time.

"I told Mike O that there’s nothing to stop me from coming back as a special guest artist," she said.

mbuttelman@signalscv.com

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