photographs by Barry Wisdom /
Like modern-day Mouseketeers, the boys and girls, and the young men and women of Galena Street East are Sacramento’s freshly scrubbed, unfailingly upbeat ambassadors of song and dance.
During the Golden Age of TV, the telegenic team (think the King Family or the Osmond Brothers) might have been featured regularly on variety shows hosted by such iconic hosts as Lawrence Welk, Andy Williams and Ed Sullivan.
Today, it’s the kind of all-ages, feel-good troupe one would more likely catch on a theme park or state fair stage (where they do, in fact, regularly appear).
Now in the midst of the group’s spate of annual “Holiday Tapestry” performances, which wrap with a 6:15 p.m. performance Dec. 19 at the California State Library Rotunda (900 N St., Sacramento), “Galena” co-founder and director Jeri Clinger took an uncharacteristic break to talk about what makes Galena Galena.
“Most people don’t sing and dance after they leave here, but use what they gain here in other aspects of life. It’s more about gaining confidence, about leadership and teamwork. You realize it’s not what you learn front and center as a solo performer, it’s about interacting with an entire team that makes a show happen. ”
Though the former schoolteacher and her pianist husband Richard Clinger – who both were once busy Southern California-based performers – started with a modest troupe of 14 some four decades ago, the current Holiday Tapestry cast boasts more than 80, with members ranging in age from 5 to 18.
But, as Clinger said, the success of Galena isn’t quantifiable.
“My goal is to create good people, not good performers,” Clinger said. For instance, Galena members are expected to contribute some 300 community service hours per year through various activities including participation in Project Birthday events.
Not that she’s opposed to seeing her good people also grow into show-stoppingly good performers. One such alumna recently appeared in the Broadway ensembles of “Mary Poppins” and “A Christmas Story: The Musical.”
The path that Galena cast members must follow may be yellow-brick shiny, but it’s also somewhat difficult to navigate, demanding discipline and self-sacrifice of its young cast as well as their families. Some routinely commute from as far away as Granite Bay and Lodi to attend the regular rehearsals, which include a 7 a.m. Saturday practice.
“It’s a long way to come twice a week,” said Clinger, who said that the group’s busy rehearsal schedule does have an upside beyond pitch-perfect performances.
“They don’t have time to get into trouble,” she laughed, adding that her troupes enjoy uniquely positive support systems that include Clinger and her creative team, volunteers (culled from parents and past performers), and even their fellow castmates.
Some of those families are intimately acquainted with the challenges of Galena’s grueling (if gleeful) schedule.
Clinger said 15 current Galena cast members are legacies – children of those who also chose to embrace the Judy-and-Mickey sheen over Sid-and-Nancy grit. “It’s wonderful,” she said. “Parents who were in the first Galena now have kids in the show. They’re helping backstage, and are building sets.”
And Galena cast members are nothing if not supportive of one another. Clinger said the members of her “great little community” are always there to offer friendly hugs of celebration and caring shoulders of consolation as needed.
Over the years, Clinger said the most significant changes to “Holiday Tapestry” hasn’t been about its positive, international-flavored content, but in delivering an ever-evolving, more-professional program that features trendy music and dance of the day, as well as preserving the familiar seasonal chestnuts of yesteryear.
This commitment includes recruiting additional choreographers (local legend Ron Cisneros has long led Galena’s choreography team) who are specialists in ethnic dances. The introduction of unfamiliar global beats (and steps) to her students in an effort to expand their horizons is an important aspect of Galena, said Clinger, who has escorted her casts in performance tours around the world, from Asia to South America.
“We provide the opportunity for the kids to travel all over the world,” she said. “One reason is for them to see all the goodness and beauty there is in the world.”
For more information, please see the Galena Street East website by clicking here, or call (916) 731-4090.