“Not too bad a place to hang out, is it?”
Courtney Biryukov has just arrived at Jack London State Historic Park, in Glen Ellen, where Transcendence Theatre Company annually stages a series of open-air shows under the vivid brand name “Broadway Under the Stars.” As Transcendence’s event and hospitality manager, Biryukov is responsible for transforming the park’s empty old winery ruins – plus its vast, wide-open adjoining field and various smaller staging spaces and parking lots — into the full, colorful, bustling, picnic-and-performance landscape that greets audience members from June through August.
Today, Biryukov is preparing for the first night of the season-launching production of “Stairway to Paradise,” a splashy revue of Broadway songs and pop tunes featuring professional singers and dancers from the casts of Broadway and Los Angeles shows. Still to come this summer will be the annual “Fantastical Family Night,” a choreography-heavy show called “Shall We Dance” and a season-closing weekend titled simply “Gala Celebration.”
Though this morning’s sun-drenched stroll is still a couple of weeks before the season begins, Biryukov says her team is all ready to begin the challenging transformation of this bucolic space — once called home by the legendary author whose name the park now bears — into a sprawling, festival-like wonderland ready to welcome the season’s first guests.
Biryukov leads the way across a field that will soon welcome pre-show picnickers with tables, food trucks, wine and beer stations and more. “We’ll be building everything ourselves,” she explains. “We’ll be building 50 picnic tables out here, setting up the VIP area with chairs and tables over there. Up in the winery ruins we’ll be building a stage, building the dressing rooms, setting up the tech booth area, setting up hundreds of chairs — pretty much everything. I know it looks empty now, but somehow, we will fill up this whole big, beautiful space - the way we do every year.”
This summer marks the seventh season that Transcendence will be staging shows here at Jack London Park. Ever since 2012, the Broadway Under the Stars series has become one of the biggest events of the summer in the North Bay. The event draws audiences of up to 800 people per performance, entertaining thousands of attendees every summer (127,000 to date), raising over $367,000 for Jack London State Park along the way.
Biryukov joined the team three years ago, after answering an ad posted on Indeed.com.
“We clicked right away,” she says of interviewing with Transcendence founders Amy Miller, Brad Surovsky, and Stephan Stubbins. “I like their positivity, and their commitment to the community.”
Previous to Biryukov’s being hired to manage all of Transcendence’s events — from the Broadway Under the Stars shows to the company’s Spring and Christmas shows in Santa Rosa and Marin County, plus various fundraisers, regular “happy hour” events for major donors, and the company’s annual Skits Under the Stars events at local wineries — she moved away from Petaluma for 10 years. During that decade, she studied psychology at UC San Diego, worked as a drug and alcohol counselor, and eventually helped run a restaurant in Boston with her husband Serge and a couple of friends. It was there that Biryukov began staging special events and parties for customers, essentially teaching herself the trade of event management. Now she’s managing one of Sonoma County’s largest and most ambitious annual summertime happenings.
PLANNING TO GO?
What: Broadway Under the Stars, presented by Transcendence Theatre Company
When: “Fantastical Family Night” – Friday & Saturday, July 13 & 14; “Shall We Dance” – Friday-Sunday, August 3-19; “Gala Celebration” – Friday-Sunday, September 7-9; All shows 7:30 p.m.; gates open at 5 p.m.
Where: Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen.
Admission: Tickets are $45/$50 general (advance/at the door); $65-$75 Select; $$85-$99 Premium; $139-$150 VIP.