Actor Cynthia Martells speaks during rally in support of SB-1116 at NCRT | Photos: Stephanie McGeary


Members of Humboldt’s arts community, including actors, directors and representatives from arts-centered nonprofits, gathered at the North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT) on Thursday morning to urge Governor Gavin Newsom to sign SB-1116, a bill that would provide badly needed funding to performance art organizations, which are struggling to survive in the post-pandemic world. 

Standing on the theater’s stage, which is currently set for A Midsummer Night’s Dream – the latest local live theater show to be canceled mid-run due to a COVID outbreak — nine speakers from different facets of the arts took turns speaking to the small crowd gathered in the theater, expressing what the arts means to them personally, to the community as a whole and how difficult it has been to continue the work they do since COVID. 

Calder Johnson, managing artistic director for NCRT, kicked off the event, speaking of the financial difficulties the theater has faced from impacts of COVID on revenue, and the skyrocketing costs from inflation over the last two years. 

“Make no mistake, we all know how to adapt – to make much from not a lot, to innovate, to survive,” Johnson said during the rally. “But this debt we are currently playing with is fundamentally, catastrophically stacked against us to a degree that is truly without precedent.” 

SB-1116, which was drafted by California Senator Anthony Portantino, Senator Susan Rubio and Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, would establish the Equitable Payroll Fund (EPF) – a grant program that would support small nonprofit performance arts organizations and their workers by providing substantial reimbursements of payroll expenses.

“We don’t have the resources to sustain without that money coming in from our audience members to sustain the theaters, to even buy makeup, or costumes, or all the things that we need to sustain the theater, it has almost put us to a standstill,” actor Cynthia Martells said during Thursday’s event. 

Cleo DeOrio, artistic director of Ferndale Rep.

One of the first things to shut down when COVID hit, theaters and other performance arts spaces have taken a hard financial hit over the past two years. Even as shows have been slowly returning, the audiences have often been smaller and many shows have had to be canceled due to members of the cast or crew contracting COVID. Because theaters are so reliant on ticket sales, it has been difficult for theaters to continue to pay their workers, their bills or their rent. 

To give an example of how much financial strain COVID has caused local theaters, Cleo DeOrio – artistic director of Ferndale Repertory Theater – mentioned that the theater’s most recent production, The Rocky Horror Show, had to cancel two weekends of performances due to COVID outbreaks. DeOrio said that canceling those shows lost the theater about $9,000. 

“Humboldt County is a really special place,” DeOrio said. “We have a lot of really amazing trained professional performers and teachers and designers and directors. And that is something that not a lot of rural communities have. And we rely on these people to teach,to produce performances, to allow the space for expression. But if these people cannot be paid, they have to go somewhere else, or stop creating art. And I don’t really think either of those is a good option.” 

All of the other speakers –  including Julie Fulkerson, former Humboldt County supervisor; Brenda Perez of Centro Del Pueblo Humboldt; Jackie Dandeneau, founder and executive director of Arcata Playhouse/Playhouse Arts; Carol Ryder, artistic director of the Humboldt Light Opera Company; Alyssa Hughlett, managing director of Dell’Arte International and Monica Topping of Ink People Center of the Arts – spoke of the importance of the arts to our community, not only as entertainment, but also as a means of stimulating the economy, bringing people together and providing an outlet for expression during difficult times. 

“We need the passage of this bill, SB 1116, to be part of a sustainable social transformation that puts in the center the most sublime human practices,” Perez said during the event. “Artists are essential workers to [help us] survive this period of post pandemic. Art creates possibilities for us, all of us, to keep peace in this period of time.” 

You can read more about SB 1116 and find out how you can help voice your support here