Cynthia Galles: The Cornerstone of Found Theatre

  • 12/11/2014
  • Reporters Desk

By John Farrell, Curtain Call Writer

Cynthia Galles was a star: a Long Beach star.

She graduated with honors as class valedictorian from St. Anthony High School in Long Beach. Later, she graduated with honors from the then-new University of California Irvine in theater. She was a dynamic presence in the arts community, which she helped develop throughout three decades.  Before she died of cancer nine years ago, she directed more than 100 plays and wrote nearly as many.

Many of her accomplishments are real, but intangible. Forty years ago, Long Beach was still a cultural backwater. Now it includes eight theater companies, the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra (which was around before any else) and a thriving Long Beach Opera. Galles was part of and integral to that growth.

But she also left a physical monument located at 6th and Long Beach Boulevard. That’s the home of the new Found Theatre, which was built in cooperation with the City of Long Beach and the Community Redevelopment Agency. The CRA put up the new shopping center that houses, amongst other tenants, Walmart.

The Found Theatre was purpose-built, with fine seating, a high ceiling, a broad stage and plenty of room for theater productions. Galles died nearly a decade ago, but the Found, now under the artistic direction of her partner Virginia DeMoss is still very much in business, with plays, comedy acts and more in the space that Cynthia built.

Now, The Found is celebrating Galles’ life with a new production, Patron Saint of Sideshow: How I Become the One Tit Wonder, a documentary film by Michael Dale Brown that highlights Galles’ colorful career.

It opened the first weekend of December and is being shown at The Found during the evenings of Dec. 12 and 14 at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with the final showing during the Sunday matinee at 3 p.m.

The film, just under one-hour-and-forty minutes long, is also available in DVD format for purchase at The Found for $15, with proceeds going to the Found’s operating budget.

Brown has been filming The Found for more than 30 years, since his wife Barbara Duncan Brown joined up with the company in 1980. As he filmed technology changed right under his feet.

“I initially shot on Super8 film in the days before home video,” said Brown in a recent email exchange. “As technology grew, so did my equipment, from VHS to Hi-8, to digital tape and SDHC disks.”

In 2002, Galles discovered she had breast cancer. Given her natural bent, she decided that her fight with breast cancer should be the subject of one of her plays.”

“I got it into my head that there might be a film there, so I videotaped almost all of the rehearsals and performances,” Brown wrote. “I interviewed Cynthia, Virginia and the cast members throughout the production process, as well as shot and edited video shown on TV monitors during the show…”

That was only the beginning.

“Once the play was over, I edited together a video of the play itself, then the documentary sat on the shelf for a few years while I worked on other stuff, but Virginia kept urging me to finish it,” Brown said.

The project languished for several years, even after Galles death.

“About two years ago, I began the process of conducting new interviews, gathering still photos, going through hundreds of hours of old show videos looking for usable clips,” Brown said. “At one point, the project got stalled by a computer crash and data loss.  But we wanted to have it done for the 40th anniversary.”

Brown was inspired, as many were, by Galles.

“Although I had been heavily involved in theater when I was younger, I learned a lot from being around Cynthia: the perseverance, willingness to try anything, (and) the quirky sense of humor,” Brown wrote. “After her death and with The Found needing help putting on new productions, I was inspired to write my first play for The Found, Earthlings Beware– a piece that was very much in the same vein as Cynthia’s campy, over-the-top style. The play was well received and has gone on to be performed at a number of other theaters.”

DeMoss first met Cynthia at a Found Theatre performance, when the theater was in its first permanent home, a former laundromat 7th Street and Orange Avenue in Long Beach .

She went to their first performance of Leaves of Grass, a Chekhov adaptation, and came back for a second performance. Then she saw their production of Raid on Entebbe, a performance piece by Foundling Iris Rose.

It involved the audience directly as passengers on the hijacked plane. DeMoss was a little shy eating bread and water, hiding where the terrorists, including Cynthia Galles, told them to.

But she had already fallen in love with Galles, and the feeling, she said, proved mutual. She found that out when she met with Galles to do a piece on spec for the Long Beach Press-Telegram. The story never ran.

“I … had found the two loves of my life: Cynthia and the Found Theatre,” DeMoss said by email. “I started out taking production photos and then doing tech. I was also a UCI graduate… I was an English major, but absolutely loved theater, and took dozens of literature of theater classes. I had no interest whatsoever in acting, but was passionate about theater.

“Like so many people who enter(ed) The Found, Cynthia Galles eventually convinced me to go on stage. It turned out I loved it and despite my lack of experience, I had an incredible time and felt completely confident because Cynthia believed in me, as she did so many others.”

The Found was in the small space on 7th Street for 20 years, finally moving to their new home and letting The Garage Theatre move into their old home. They are still going strong.

Here’s Galles’ toast to her profession: “To the people I’ve never met who are doing the same thing in other hallowed spaces, large and small. To all of us who don’t have to go to hell because we’ve been there so often — on all those nights when it’s a comedy and there’s not a single laugh; when every technical snafu the collective’s horrified imagination could conceive of does indeed occur; when everyone onstage tap dances harder and harder, and the Jell-O you’re all wading through only gets deeper and thicker because there’s something in the stars that says, ‘Tonight, you’re doomed.’

“But, of course, we’re theater people, so we just have to ride the runaway train to disaster until the final blackout, and face the tepid applause during the curtain call with all the aplomb of heroes in a silent film lined up for the firing squad.”

Tickets for Patron Saint of Sideshow are $10. Performances are Dec. 12 at 8 p.m., Dec. 13 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 14 at 3 p.m.

Details: (562) 433-3363; www.foundtheatre.org

Venue: The Found Theatre

Location: 599 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach

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