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Opinion: When community theater played in Madera

I paid a visit to City Hall Finance this week to pay my utility bill. Certain bills my Fred likes to pay in person. I don’t why, except it is the way his parents did it. PG&E and the City are two of them. Had we exercised our right to mail the payment in the provided self-address envelope the payment would have been sent to a post office box in San Francisco.

I don’t understand why we send our payments to be processed in San Francisco. Isn’t it more important to provide local jobs rather than sending the jobs to the City by The Bay? There are many things I don’t understand.

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One of my favorite pages on Facebook is called Madera Memories. Moderated by Brent Peart and Doug Robertson it is a friendly page where people post memories and photos of life in Madera. For example, I once posted a batch of photos taken in downtown Madera commissioned, by the Roberts family.

Recently an advertisement from a 1948 edition of The Madera Tribune was posted. The ad was for Bruno’s Bike Shop on South C Street. The telephone number was 1280W. At the bottom of the ad it said Bruno Barrata Owner and under that appeared the words “The Midget.”

Group members posted opinions and memories of Barrata’s South C Street bicycle shop. The family later owned a store on Yosemite Avenue that was an Army-Navy surplus store. They sold a lot of military clothing and gear. When I was in high school in the 1970s the height of fashion was to wear Navy bell-bottom jeans that everybody called Bruno’s. The pants had patch pockets, were durable and, most importantly, affordable. Even then rarely do the words cool and affordable end up in the same sentence.

My question is who decided the term Midget is offensive? I’m not sure Bruno would have liked being called a little person. Because of his stature and medical issues he rode a tri-cycle in the store as he served the needs of the community.

I often feel like I missed the memo that declared certain phrases politically incorrect. People just seem to know.

Years ago The Madera Community Theater presented Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians.” These days the play is called “And Then There Was None.” It is a staple of high school drama departments and has been for years.

My character was a melding old biddy named Emily Brent. On opening night my friends Doug Nelson, Stefanie Gendron Eddings, Ronnie Fletcher, Rodney Hagopian and I played to a good-sized crowd. Sitting together in the front row was my husband Fred and Fletcher’s parents.

When my character made her debut on stage, my husband whispered to Ron “She looks like Bruno’s mother.”

It took a few seconds to sink in what he said and then Ron roared with laughter. A former Madera Police captain, he knew all the business owners well. Mrs. Barrata was as much a downtown fixture as her son and his tri-cycle. In costume, I did rather look like her.

A cast as large as this one also included Bill Coate and then-MUSD Superintendent Tom Riley. His wife Eileen served as director. I am sure most of the teachers in Madera attended performances of the play if only to see Riley be killed.

Set in a hotel on an island there are 10 little Indian figures on the fireplace mantle. As each character is killed off one of the figures disappears.

Community theater was a fun experience, but one I don’t need to repeat. The group staged a few more plays before it disbanded for lack of interest. Staging a play brings with it a sort of forced intimacy between the actors. The players all realized they were about to make fools of themselves in front of the whole town. Stage fright is a common malady. Every time anyone said anything about it I served as the cheerleader telling my fellow cast members to use that energy and put it in their character.

Of course, I had a case of stage fright just before the curtain went up. I got about a dozen comments from the others to use the energy and put it in my character.

Don’t you hate it when your words come back to bite you, I do!

When Madera gets around to building its cultural arts center, I hope community theater makes a comeback.

In the meantime can someone tell me why my city utilities are processed in San Francisco?

Long days and pleasant nights, have a good weekend.

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Readers may contact Tami Jo Nix by emailing or following @TamiJoNix on Twitter.

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