PICTURED: Lin-Manuel Miranda meets the cast of CSUCI’s production of In the Heights in November 2018. Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Geffen Playhouse

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

CSUCI student to be part of “Dear Lin-Manuel”

On June 5, Apple TV launched a new documentary series, Dear . . . , created by RJ Cutler, to tell the stories of U.S. pop-culture icons through the eyes of those they have inspired. One segment, “Dear Lin-Manuel,” focusing on composer, singer and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, includes the experiences of Melina Ortega, a performing arts major at California State University, Channel Islands (CSUCI). 

Ortega, who was raised in Oxnard by her Mexican immigrant parents, landed the role of Vanessa in CSUCI’s 2018 production of In the Heights, one of Miranda’s most popular musicals. On Nov. 7, 2018, a week before opening night, a mass shooting took place at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks — a venue Ortega would often frequent. The following day, the Hill and Woolsey fires broke out, and CSUCI was evacuated. In the Heights was canceled, but Ortega was nevertheless transformed and inspired by her role in the production.

“I wrote a letter to Lin and explained the shooting and In the Heights and how much it meant to us,” Ortega said. “I explained that before In the Heights, I was afraid to be fully myself.”

Ortega would later meet Miranda during a special fundraiser in Los Angeles, to which the CSUCI cast was invited. It was an additional thrill to have her story told during Cutler’s “Dear Lin-Manuel” segment . . .  one that brought closure and healing as well.

Season 1 of Dear . . . is available to Apple TV subscribers.  

SCIART announces reopening and endowment fund

The Studio Channel Islands Art Center (SCIART) in Old Town Camarillo has had an eventful couple of weeks. The annual Collector’s Choice fundraiser just took place on June 6 — virtually, with a game show-inspired celebration on Facebook Live. It will also start welcoming back visitors to the Blackboard Gallery for in-person art appreciation starting on Saturday, June 13.

The gallery’s opening weekend (following a nearly three-month closure) will start at 11 a.m. on Saturday, with a host of changes aimed at safeguarding the health and safety of patrons and staff. Members of the same household are allowed to come to the galleries together, but all guests are asked to wear masks and avoid touching doors and surfaces. The galleries must be toured via a clearly marked, one-way path. Visitors will be limited to 25 in the main gallery and five in the members gallery. Saturday hours are 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; the Blackboard Gallery will also be open Tuesday-Friday, 12-5 p.m.

SCIART also recently announced that it is accepting applications for the newly created Roxie Ray Endowment Fund, named after the beloved artist, philanthropist and SCIART founding member, who passed away in October 2019. With a goal of supporting emerging artists, the fund will subsidize studio space for two years for successful applicants. In addition, selected artists will have the opportunity to show work in the members gallery, host special events and enjoy mentorship and critique group support. Applications are being accepted through July 24; apply online at studiochannelislands.org/rraef/.

Help the Museum of Ventura County celebrate the 19th Amendment

The 19th Amendment, which granted U.S. women the right to vote, was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920. A special exhibit commemorating its 100th anniversary is in the works at the Museum of Ventura County, and it is appealing to the public for help. The museum is collecting a variety of materials related to Ventura County and the suffragette movement: photos, stories, audio recordings, family recollections and more. Materials may be submitted through July 15. The exhibit is supported by a $5,000 grant from California Humanities for All, and will be designed for travel to schools and other community spaces. For more information, including terms and guidelines, visit venturamuseum.org/suffrage-movement-material-collection/.

5-Star At Home

The Bank of America Performing Arts Center’s resident company, 5-Star Theatricals, is jumping on the virtual bandwagon by offering programming that can be safely enjoyed from home. 5-Star Theatricals At Home kicked off June 8 with a musical theater technique master class, taught by Brad Ellis (Glee), and continues June 11 with a choreography class centered on Beauty and the Beast, led by Cheryl Baxter. A June 18 conversation with Barrett Foa (NCIS: LA) followed by a reunion of the 5-Star Theatricals cast of The Marvelous Wonderettes concludes the series. All programming is free, appropriate for the entire family and viewable on Zoom. 5startheatricals.com/athome/.

Women creatives dominate Ojai Film Festival web series

The Ojai Film Festival has added to its online offerings with “Dialogues,” a web series featuring conversations with filmmakers that took place in 2019 during the festival’s 20th year. Season 1 was made available in late May and included cinematographer Ellen Kuras, screenwriter Lisa Cole, filmmaker Emily Best and director Jen McGowan, who speak about their craft and challenges in the movie industry. Season 2 premiered June 6 and features actor/director Niki Koss, director Sabina Vajraca and writer/director Shelby Thompson.

“This show highlights women’s accomplishments, giving them a voice, and an opportunity to be championed,” said Laura Caulfield, “Dialogues” producer and host. 

New episodes are available every Friday, and future subjects will include documentary producer Elizabeth Rodeno (June 12) and producer Kristen Jones (June 19). More information is available at ojaifilmfestival.com/dialogue/.