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Patricia Skinner Sulpizio: City Council meetings: Local theater at its best

SCV Voices

Posted: July 17, 2010 11:15 p.m.
Updated: July 18, 2010 4:55 a.m.

I was excused from my Tuesday night class to do some independent study. My professor agreed and assigned a homework project to report on my experience. Rather than an oral report, I chose the creative-writing option.

I registered to observe an elective civics class, but it was substituted by a section from the drama department. The drama department’s City Council Theatre class meets twice a month. On July 13, they were presenting Dante’s Inferno, a tragic comedy in several acts.

The lead performers are the Santa Clarita City Council Troupe, with regularly scheduled shows at 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month. The acts consist of agenda items submitted by producer City Manager Ken Pulskamp and his staff writers. Several entertainment reporters and critics regularly attend, including Carol Rock from KHTS-1220 and the SCVTalk and West Ranch Beacon bloggers. But, like Roger Ebert, the review that gets the most attention appears in The Signal, the only newspaper in town.

Citizens suggest agenda item acts in advance, and the council member troupe chooses which acts will appear in the shows.

Performances are staged in an exciting reality-show format, with council members as judges, rather than the typically boring council meeting style. The leads are Madam Mayor Laurene Weste and male protagonist Frank Ferry in the role of Simon Cowell.

The supporting players include complex over-40 actress Marsha McLean, young starlet Laurie Ender, a sergeant-at-arms Sheriff’s deputy and, since again he claims he doesn’t seek reelection, soon-to-be “has been” Bob Kellar.

Audience members were excited to see agenda acts “update on Benz Road neighborhood traffic-calming efforts,” “memorandum of understanding between the city of Santa Clarita and the Sunset Heights homeowners association” and a repeat performance of the fan favorite “campaign contribution limitations and disclosure.”

Early in the meeting, improvisation contestants must submit an entry card to the city clerk stage manager for each act in which they wish to perform. Novices are also permitted to perform, so, inspired by the excitement in the air, I submitted an entry card.

I was no match for the cast of repeat challengers; regulars with well-honed improv acting experience. I refer to the regulars as the Groupies and Roadies, since name calling is part of the fun. Contestants are allowed three minutes. At the conclusion of the improv agenda acts, the cast of the Santa Clarita City Councilmember Troupe perform as long as they choose, with or without a script.

Madam Mayor allows no posters, banners, speaking out of turn or any applause from the audience. The mayor will stop the show to admonish the audience if they disobey the rules, which apply to the audience only. If audience members are particularly boisterous, as they were last Tuesday, she has the sergeant-at-arms escort them out of the City Council Chamber Theatre. The same rules do not apply to her fellow cast members.

In agenda item act number 24 on July 13, the Campaign Contribution Limitation and Disclosure Act, before a packed house, 22 courageous citizens approached the microphone, each performing their interpretation of the universal theme, “Please don’t raise the individual campaign contribution limits from $360 to $1,000.” A few contestants incorporated in their repertoire gutsy jabs aimed at the judges.

The citizens’ heartfelt performances were the highlight of the show. Councilman Frank Ferry, as Simon Cowell, disqualified the whole bunch, accusing them of rehearsing with amateur director and up-and-coming cast member David Gauny.

The other members of the City Council Troupe followed Ferry’s act, with a final 4-1 vote, resulting in disqualification of all contestants. The earnest citizens’ pleas had fallen on deaf ears.

The Santa Clarita Council Member Troupe of Players and the City staff has moved the grand finale, the Public Comment Act, to the end of each show, typically performed late in the evening because, more often than not, the amateur players regularly upstage the principal actors.

Discouraged but not deterred, I stayed until after midnight last Tuesday evening for another turn at improv during the Public Comment Act, but by this time, the press and most of the audience had gone home. I made my way to the microphone and assured the judges I had not rehearsed beforehand with Gauny. In fact, I have never met him.
“Just as all but one of you ignored my e-mail imploring you to censor your fellow cast member Ferry for his outburst at the last show,” I said, “you snubbed the citizen actors who, speaking from their hearts tonight, begged you not to lift the cap on the independent campaign contribution limit from $360 to $1,000. I think I know what ‘developmental terrorist’ means. To Mr. Ferry it means, ‘sit down and shut up. If you challenge me or don’t agree with me, you have no value to me.’”

Due to my inexperience, I ran over the three-minute limit and wasn’t able to complete my last line: “You sit two steps higher than us, but you are no better than us.” 

I didn’t see the June 22 show, but The Signal reported that in as few as two acts, including part one of the Campaign Contribution Limit Act, in which 100 percent of the contestants argued against increasing the individual campaign contribution limits, Ferry similarly disqualified the entire cast of improv contestants. It’s rumored Ferry has been nominated for a Tony Award, for his exceedingly villainous portrayal of Simon Cowell and characteristic name-calling that night, disqualifying frequent improv contestants TimBen Boydston and Gauny by calling them “developmental terrorists.”

Improv contestants will likely increase their chances of winning a prize by returning to as many future shows as possible.

To ward off the butterflies, cue cards are recommended. I’ve heard that July 13 was the final performance of the Campaign Contribution Limitation Act, but challengers can try again during the Public Comment Act segment of future shows.

I encourage you to attend the twice-monthly Santa Clarita City Council local theatre. Since tickets are free, it’s an entertainment bargain, but arrive early because seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. A limited number of standing-room-only tickets are available. Leave the children at home; the material presented is for mature audiences only.

The growing amateur troupe of ever-vigilant developmental terrorists is sure to deliver engaging performances in the coming months.  

I predict the city staff will field many suggestions for a future act entitled PAC Contribution Limits. Personally, I would love to see “A Tale of Two Cities,” a morality play of representative democracy, performed with a new cast of council members in the second act. But alas, as long as the current cast is represented by the powerful and wealthy agents, the

Citizens for Integrity in Government PAC, funded primarily by G&L Realty, and are without term limits, it will be a long time before anyone sees that show.   

Patricia Skinner Sulpizio is a Valencia resident and delegate to the California Democratic Party. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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