Good things come in small packages.
Take Sightglass Theater Company, for example, and its inaugural, two-person play, “The Last Five Years,” produced at Jarvis Conservatory in 2015. Upcoming productions include “Vincent” on April 15 and “Curiosities” running May 18-21.
Sightglass joins the burgeoning, lively Napa Valley arts scene at a time of conflicting realities. On the one hand, greater local opportunities for operational and project support are available to artists and organizations thanks to Arts Council Napa Valley, Napa County’s Arts and Culture Grants Program, plus the ongoing generosity of businesses and individual contributors.
On the other hand, threatened defunding of the National Endowment for the Arts would have a disastrous trickle-down effect on local, regional and national programs throughout the U.S. — arts activities that embrace diversity and access for all.
Sightglass co-founder, actor and artistic director Robert Dornaus III is under no illusion that sustaining his nonprofit will be easy, but its creation fulfills a passion he has maintained since graduating from Vintage High School in 2000:
“How awesome would it be to take all of my resources and my training and create a theater that I enjoy, and produce here and see how it goes, from the depth of my heart and soul, and try and serve the community?”
Dornaus enters the fold well-qualified as an accomplished singer, modern dancer, actor and director. Napa-born, Dornaus was home-schooled until sixth grade. He spent years in speech therapy due to an impediment that he eventually learned to overcome by singing in the Vintage competitive choir. “It helped me learn how to speak through singing,” he said.
Dornaus’ impressive training includes stints at Chapman University, graduation from the Actors Training Program of Solano College, study at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, State University of New York at Purchase College, and graduation from The Meisner Technique Studio in San Francisco.
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“Sightglass is a baby company,” Dornaus said, “and we want to lean towards leaner productions. We intend on paying all musicians and actors and want to collaborate with other companies to bring their works here. I would like to see consistent theater throughout the year, help produce that and facilitate that.”
First up is what Dornaus described as “foundational work” — establishing a solid footing for the company’s success. Members of his family have come on board to assist, including sister and actress Mindi Burnett, plus brother-in-law, Sightglass co-founder and managing director Kenyan Burnett. When the necessity of fundraising was mentioned, Dornaus described the formidable task as “a very interesting muscle I am learning how to strengthen.”
Does Napa Valley need another theater company? Dornaus cites the axiom, “A rising tide lifts all the boats.”
“Everyone wants to support each other, and we are not each other’s competition,” Dornaus maintains. “Our competition is the televisions and cellphones in our society. It is so much easier to be entertained on Facebook or watching Netflix.
“We live in a digital age, unlike any other time, and I feel like our culture is in danger. I have a love for and commitment to the power of live theater. It’s spiritual what happens inside of people in the audience, in the moment, when something is taking place in front of them.”
When the going gets tough running his nonprofit or rehearsing for the next Sightglass production, Dornaus has one perk the rest of us would, as they say, “die for.” Certified as a professional body worker, Dornaus’ day job is as manager and therapist at the newly-awarded, five-star Spa at Meadowood in St. Helena.
“Having gone away and come back, I truly love it here,” Dornaus said, “and I’ve always had a dream of having my own theater company. I have plenty of passion for now. I hope it doesn’t run out.”
“Vincent,” the story of artist Vincent Van Gogh, starring Jim Jarrett, will be performed at 7 p.m. on April 15 at the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $25 and $35. For more information on Sightglass Theater Company, visit www.sightglasstheater.org.