After an extensive career as an actor, writer, director and business owner, Lompoc native Mark Herrier said he was looking for his third act in life when he and his wife, Teresa, moved back to the Central Coast last year.
“I figured I’d find something that excites me,” he said.
That process went a little quicker than he could’ve imagined, and also hit really close to home.
Herrier — who is perhaps most known for his starring role in the “Porky’s” franchise of the early 1980s — was at an event in a local park late last summer when he came across a table with information about the Lompoc Theatre Project, a grassroots effort to restore the former entertainment hub that sits at the corner of H Street and Ocean Avenue.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I know a little something about theater, I’ll go see what these guys are doing,’” the 59-year-old said.
After talking to members of the project’s board of directors, one thing led to another and Herrier ended up joining the board himself. He said the project was instantly personal for him and he has poured himself into the effort over the last several months.
“He’s a huge asset to the group because he knows the industry very well,” Cecilia Martner, who is the president of the project’s board, said of Herrier. “He knows the theater business very well and that is invaluable experience that we didn’t have before.”
Herrier, who grew up in Lompoc, has a long history with the theater.
He said he remembers going to Saturday matinees as a small child and watching the serials that would play before the feature films. One of those visits to the theater ended up changing his life.
Herrier said he was 10 years old when his mother drug him to see “The Music Man” at the theater. He didn’t want to go at first, but she eventually got him to relent. After seeing Robert Preston’s performance in the 1962 film, he ended up watching the movie multiple times in both Santa Barbara and at the Lompoc Theatre and said he was hooked.
“From that point on,” he said, “I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and that was to be an actor.”
He started pursuing acting relentlessly. He participated in every student play that he could up to his 1972 graduation from Lompoc High School and was also active in the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA).
He went on from there to train at the University of Washington and performed in several Seattle-area productions. He eventually set off for New York City, where he worked both on and off Broadway and that led to his film and television career that began with the first “Porky’s” in 1982.
Despite all of the cities and venues in which he’s performed, Herrier said one of his prized possessions is a photograph that his late mother took of “Popcorn,” the title of a 1991 movie he directed, on the marquee of the Lompoc Theatre.
“Of all the things I’ve done, that was perhaps the biggest thrill to me — to have my movies at that theater,” he said. “My mom would send me pictures. We were both proud.”
Everyone involved in the Lompoc Theatre Project is confident that restoring the old building would be a big step in helping to revitalize downtown Lompoc. Along with the city’s burgeoning wine industry, the multipurpose complex — which is being planned to host movies as well as a wide range of live performances, such as music, theater and dance — could help draw visitors who would otherwise pass over Lompoc.
Perhaps even more vital, however, is the effect that the theater could have on the people who already live in Lompoc.
Herrier pointed to Lompoc’s long and rich history of producing athletes, but said that the same cannot be said for the arts. Kids who aren’t particularly athletic, or don’t have an interest in sports, he said, are often limited in options to express themselves.
“I want to show kids in this town that if you’re not a jock and your talents and your desires go a different way, there is a place for you,” he said. “There’s gonna be some kid who’s gonna come in (to the Lompoc Theatre) and see Buddy Guy and he’s gonna hear blues for the first time and he’s gonna say, ‘I want to do that.’”
“It’s not rocket science,” he added. “Any study you want to read shows the benefit to a community of having a thriving arts scene: It’s economic, it’s educational, it’s cultural, it helps in every way.”
The project’s board of directors is working to gain ownership of the building before it can pursue any restoration efforts. Members of the board are quick to note that they haven’t taken any money from any government entities, and they feel that the process is very doable with community support.
Getting the public to realize that this current group, which was formed about two years ago, isn’t the same as previous groups who have pushed to restore the building hasn’t been easy, however.
“Because there have been so many efforts, I think the community has become a little jaded,” Herrier said. “Their hopes have been dashed a few too many times, so it’s going to be harder I think to get them to believe that this can happen again.
“But all of the efforts in the past, even the ones that have gotten negative press, have gotten us to this point. It’s almost like invading a beach head: Each wave gets us a little bit further and eventually we’ll get it done. I really believe this is a group of people that can get it done.”
Herrier said that he and Teresa, who is also a Lompoc native and alumnus of Lompoc High School, are planning to eventually settle down in Cambria. Teresa’s parents are in Lompoc, though, so they will be spending a lot of time in the area.
Herrier is beginning some new projects with the PCPA and he said he’d love to see the art communities in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties work together to enhance each other.
“A rising tide lifts all boats, and I think that’s the case with the arts,” he said. “Once you start going to the arts and get a taste for it, you want it. There’s no reason why the kids here can’t get a little piece of that.”
Martner, who shares those ideals, said it’s great to have someone with Herrier’s background on board with the project. She’s hopeful that other Lompocans will share his passion for the restoration.
“He’s a Lompoc native, so the story is really quite beautiful,” she said. “It’s very fitting and I’m sure there are other people in the community who have that feeling about Lompoc.”