Julia Bates remembers the moment her passion for live theatre was born. She was seven years old and had been brought from her home in Concord, Massachusetts, to see a professional musical production in Boston. “I’ll never forget the red velvet curtain going up, up, up…” she recounts, her hands motioning, “something magical was happening.”
That magic has continued to keep her under its spell ever since. Bates is a self-proclaimed “theatre addict” who has proudly supported the Lobero, and even trod upon its boards, since she moved to Santa Barbara as a bride in 1936.
Her fondest memories are of the 1959 Junior League production of Orchid Odyssey, in which she performed and wrote several songs, including Fair Santa Barbara, a ditty playing off local street names. The director was New York’s Howard Miller, who whipped his volunteer performers into professional shape. “We rocked the town,” Bates recalls from her cheerful Casa Dorinda home. “Our chorus line couldn’t be equaled in New York.”
The following year, Miller asked her to help raise money for a summer theatre series at the Lobero. The two raised an astonishing $13,000 in three weeks by holding a cocktail party and “taking turns calling people from my kitchen telephone,” Bates laughs. The series ran for six years before financial woes forced them to stop. “The town wasn’t quite big enough,” she laments.
But her association with the Lobero continued when she was asked to join the Board in 1966. Their once-a-year Board meetings consisted of reports by box office manager Dorothy Fenzi (“a real character,” notes Bates), backstage manager Harold Reeves (who later wrote his “Lobero Chronicles”) and Board President (“and the real boss”) Reginald Faletti. Then they would all have tea.
After a few years Falletti resigned, and Bates was asked to be Board President. At first she didn’t want the job, but her husband Edward encouraged her, and she became President in 1969 — and the tea party Board meetings came to an end!
Under her tenure, the Lobero hosted leading visiting artists and was the home of local performing arts groups. The “theatre addict’ also started the short-lived “UCSB at the Lobero” series of plays and began the Lobero Associates, whose first co-presidents were Georgette Higginson and Elaine Urton. She initiated annual fundraising appeals and dreamed of installing an orchestra pit and renovating the back courtyard. ‘‘I wranted to do these things for the Lobero,” she recalls, “and they eventually did happen,” she laughs, “the courtyard just last year!”
Julia Bates’ love of live theatre is undiminished. “Plays have got to be presented,” she states, eyes flashing, “for the next generation.” She has chosen to ensure the future of the Lobero through a planned gift in her will. “I just love this beautiful theatre,” she adds.