Making Friends with Theatre 29

By Rebecca French

My husband, Joe, is a secret ham. He is so extra; he loves to sing and dance for me and our dogs, sometimes while quoting his favorite movie and TV lines. It wasn’t until we had been together for about a year that I first learned the extent of his love for the musical Little Shop of Horrors… “‘Cause I’m a dentist and a success!”

To most people, Joe seems kind of like the villainous dentist from the show. He rides a black Harley, is an ex-truck driver, tough, stoic, and can be earnest but underneath it all, he has a heart of gold, and did I mention, is a secret ham?

We first started going to Theatre 29 when Joe heard they had done a production of Little Shop of Horrors back in 2019. Despite his seemingly tough guy veneer, Joe got friendly with one of the directors when we made inquiries about the show and learned how much the elaborate puppet, Audrey 2, cost to rent for the production (a lot). From then on, we’ve been to almost every show Theatre 29 has hosted this season. And have been loving it! The cast is always fantastic. The ticket-takers and ushers are so kind and welcoming. We seem to meet a new friend each time we go. Although cliche sounding, Theatre 29 is just a special place with so much heart.

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In fact, the last time we went, we met and chatted with the lovely Director, Cindy Daigneault. Among many other duties, Cindy is instrumental in making sure the show pre- and post-production go smoothly. She also connected me with her husband, Theatre 29 cofounder, Gary Daigneault.

Theatre 29 was first started in 1999 by a group of bighearted locals who wanted to share and hopefully pass on their love of the performing arts to the young people of the Morongo Basin. What started as a handful of folks putting on ad hoc performances using school district facilities has now grown to become the area’s largest and most successful non-profit community theater.

Gary explains it best; “We like to say the goal was not to train performers, but to train audiences to appreciate the theater arts.”

Since Theatre 29’s inception, they’ve thrived with the support of generous donors, and patrons, including the City of Twentynine Palms, the Officers Spouse’s Club, and two Community Development Block Grants.

But it’s the thousands of volunteers (including all the great people we meet at each performance) — children, active-duty military, teens, and adults — rallying to help that have allowed Theatre 29 to hold over 150 productions to date, viewed by an estimated 20,000+ patrons.

Over more than twenty-five years, Theatre 29’s mission mostly remains the same — To engage, educate, and entertain our communities through performing arts. And fam, there really is something for everyone at Theatre 29!

Their rich, 5-week summer youth program introduces kids from 7-17 to all aspects of live theater production. This summer’s program, running from June 24th to July 28th, will center around developing iterations of the super fun musical, Seussical.

Theatre 29 also has a stellar resident improv troupe called the “Rotating Players” and hosts monthly improve workshops open to everyone, especially beginners. Come learn improv basics and then hone your newly acquired skills through interactive games. Don’t you think it sounds like my husband Joe needs to join this class?

Theatre 29 has won many top awards for direction, acting, music, choreography, set design, technical theater, and costumes. We recently attended their performance of “Man of La Mancha” and was delighted. Like the ethos of Theatre 29 itself, theater by all for all, the cast is made up of actors of all ages, skill levels, and ethnicities. Although there are only two small stages, the set designers optimally utilize the space to transport you to another world.

April 5th will mark the start of Theatre 29’s next production, a run of the musical Daddy Long Legs. Based on the 1912 novel of the same name, it’s reminiscent of gothic works by the Brontes and Jane Austen.

Next year, Theatre 29 is hoping to renovate and expand, in partnership with the city of Twentynine Palms. The City Council has approved a design to increase seating to 160 and a stage extension to allow scenery to be flown up until it is out of sight of the audience (called a Fly-Loft). Joe had to explain what this was to me!

So, if you’ve got a free Friday, Saturday night, or Sunday afternoon, have a heart, and come out and support this wonderful institution. You’re sure to make a new friend.

Rebecca French lives in Twentynine Palms. She started her career in the business end of publishing at The Washington Monthly, Newsweek, and Businessweek magazines. She’s done mostly behind-the-scenes writing and editing for years.

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