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As I complete my fifth year working with the Lompoc Theatre Project, two things remain constant — people love this theater, and it started when they were kids.

I have heard countless stories of attending Saturday matinees with a double feature, serial and cartoons. I remember them fondly myself. Our parents would drop us off in the morning with a dollar. Not only would that get us in, but enable us to buy popcorn and a coke, too. We’d be there all day until our parents picked us up in the afternoon. Imagine that.

I have also heard many sweet stories of our citizens enjoying a first kiss there in their initial brush with adolescence. And believe it or not, one elderly resident told me of being a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. Not the one we know from TV in the 1950s and again in the ‘90s. This one was in theaters across the United States and started by Disney in the 1930s! Lompoc was a charter member.

And speaking of the ’90s, a whole lot of people who were teens in that era remember joyously grabbing their raincoats and going to The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight.

From the day it first opened, this theater has catered to the youth of the Lompoc Valley. The LTP is dedicated to continuing that important tradition when we reopen in the future. In fact, it is in our mission statement. And it is the main reason I have been honored to be a part of it.

Perhaps you have heard that when the theater is operational again, it will generate $2 million to $4 million yearly in new economic activity, bring in exciting new businesses and restaurants, and create new jobs. What you might not have heard is that many of those jobs will be for teenage and college kids.

They will be our ushers and concession staff. They will assist us with our day-to-day operations. They will also serve as interns in various aspects of the theater from marketing and box office, to lighting and sound, and beyond.

I grew up in a time when a public school education in Lompoc meant you had daily classes of art, music and theater if you wanted. Sadly, that is not the case today. Which is why the theater will be available at no charge for performances from our local dance studios and high schools.

Elementary kids will be able to enjoy PCPA in the schools in a real theater instead of their cafeterias. There will be after-school programs, student film festivals and lots more. Those of us who don’t have a good fastball nonetheless will again have many opportunities to express our other talents.

Imagine a young dancer watching the Alvin Ailey Co. on our stage and saying to herself, “will I ever move like that? I’d like to try.”

Or a young kid in the high school band hearing Branford Marsalis live for the first time and realizing then and there, “That’s it. That’s what I want to do.”

Or an aspiring young actor seeing a memorable film performance that causes him or her to dedicate his life pursuing theater as a career.

Farfetched? Well, it happened to me in the Lompoc Theatre.

Make no mistake, our programming will appeal to our entire community. Movies, dance, opera, hip-hop, salsa, rock, country, punk, Christian, grunge, big bands, folk, metal, soul, blues — the list will be endless.

But a fundamental part of the theater will be serving our youth. It’s about the kids. And it always has been.

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Mark Herrier is president of the Lompoc Theater board.

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