The celebration of life for Clint Rebik at Blue Lake Casino's Sapphire Palace on Dec. 4, 2021, was a lively one. The venue was packed with masked attendees from his hometown in Brawley, family, colleagues from Cal Poly Humboldt where he was the registrar, old friends from his blackjack dealer days and an ensemble cast from the local theater community. There were speeches and remembrances with more laughing than crying, and here and there, with a slideshow playing overhead, people were asking what would happen to Redwood Curtain Theatre.
On Feb. 12, Peggy Metzger, who co-founded Redwood Curtain Theatre with Rebik and shepherded it through nearly 90 productions, announced her decision to retire from her position as producing director to the board of directors. "Things rarely work out as planned," she told them, though two years of closure due to COVID-19 and the loss of one founder had taught them all that lesson well enough. She outlined a succession plan that would leave board Chair Nanette Voss at the helm as managing director, continuing with the organization's ethos and hopefully reopening later this spring.
Rebik, who died of esophageal cancer Nov. 4, 2021, met Metzger in 1999 when she, then a student at California State University at Chico, came to Humboldt with a mutual friend to visit him at CPH. Later they attended CPH's MFA theater program together. Over some 40 years, they became close friends, coworkers at the university, where Metzger is director of financial aid, creative partners at the theater and family, as Rebik is the father of her two sons with her former wife Chris Jioras. There is, she says, no part of her life where she does not feel the loss of him keenly.
As she and Rebik started working in local production companies, Metzger says, "We'd get together for lunch and gripe about the kind of theater that was produced around here and [we'd do] the old, 'If we ran a theater, we'd do it this way.' And then it morphed into, 'Why don't we?'" She laughs, adding, "We used to bicker about whose idea it was — blame each other." They wanted to stage challenging dramas and stories by and about women, LGBTQ people and people of color, and other stories they weren't seeing elsewhere. In 1999, they started out in the Eagle House, shuffling around Eureka until settling in the small venue at 220 First St. in 2010.
While their dream of a semi-professional theater company never paid either of them a salary, they were able to cut checks for performers and other artists on opening nights — just not the living wage they'd hoped to provide. Still, says Metzger, "I think we built something pretty special." Along with his theatrical chops, she says Rebik, as artistic director, brought kindness to the venture. "Clint was endlessly charming and diplomatic, and made everyone feel like they were his best friends. So, when people walked into Redwood Curtain, whether [they were] performers or audience, they felt welcome." In a scene rife with stories of backstage tension and yelling, Metzger says kindness became a core value, "that sense of really valuing the people, and valuing the artists and creative freedom. For us, treating people kindly was kind of a no-brainer."
Voss, who is director of the Eureka High School Players and teaches writing at EHS, first performed at the theater in 2011, and says she appreciates that approach. "Being in a Redwood Curtain show was where you were always aiming. Because Redwood Curtain was known for their professionalism and their shows were interesting and cutting edge." By 2019, having done three shows there, she heard at a party that Metzger and Rebik were ready to retire. "I told my friend, 'Oh man, I'd love to manage that theater. Because I'm insane," she says with a light laugh. "Next thing I know, I get a text from Clint." Soon, the three started planning a transition that would have Metzger exit first, with Voss and Rebik running the theater for a while before he left. That gradual handoff was thrown first by COVID and its attending shutdown of public performances, then by Rebik's death.
- Nanette Voss, Redwood Curtain Theatre's new managing director.
But now, despite a full plate at work and two children at home, Voss says her career, which includes 17 years teaching, nine of them at EHS — has reached a manageable point where she's ready to take on her new role as managing director. "I don't feel like an artistic director because I think it should be up to the board to make those decisions and establish the feeling and the tone of Redwood Curtain," she says. "I'm just making things happen. It feels a little humbler but it's a humble position."
The task ahead includes rebuilding the board — they're on the hunt for two more members with time and a knack for fundraising — and looking at how to make the theater viable financially and in its mission. "We kind of all decided that as it comes back ... we're going to reduce our play season and increase our support of community performances," says Voss. That means fewer plays, possibly with longer runs, and renting the space for music and other performances. "Redwood Curtain is in the perfect position to help with a higher representation of the artist community," Voss says, adding that she and the rest of the board are aiming to reopen the space in May. They're also hoping to stage a Redwood Curtain production by September.
Metzger looks forward to returning as a member of the audience, or perhaps to act or direct again. "I hope to be involved as a performer," she says, "but maybe not the one who gets called when the toilet is broken." Letting go of the theater she founded with Rebik has been a difficult decision, Metzger says, and she had mixed feelings up until the moment she addressed the board. "But knowing now, getting through that meeting and knowing it's in good hands and moving forward with the same values that we infused in it, I feel a great sense of relief," she says. "I feel a sense of hope for the theater."Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.