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Petaluma’s Event Manager to the ‘Stars’

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PLANNING TO GO?

What: Broadway Under the Stars, presented by Transcendence Theatre Company

When: “Stairway to Paradise” – Friday-Sunday, June 15-July 1; “Fantastical Family Night” – Friday & Saturday, July 13 & 14; “Shall We Dance” – Friday-Sunday, August 3-19; “Gala Celebration” – Friday-Sunday, September 7-9; All shows 7:30 p.m.; gates open at 5 p.m.

Where: Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen.

Admission: Tickets are $45/$50 general (advance/at the door); $65-$75 Select; $$85-$99 Premium; $139-$150 VIP.

Information: TranscendenceTheatre.org.

“Not too bad a place to hang out, is it?”

Courtney Biryukov, of Petaluma, has just arrived at Jack London State Historic Park, in Glen Ellen, where Transcendence Theatre Company annually stages a series of open-air shows under the vivid brand name Broadway Under the Stars. As Transcendence’s Event and Hospitality Manager, Biryukov is responsible for transforming the park’s empty old winery ruins – plus its vast, wide-open adjoining field, and various smaller staging spaces and parking lots — into the full, colorful, bustling, picnic-and-performance landscape that will greet audience members when the series begins on Friday, June 15.

That will be the first night of a season-launching production titled “Stairway to Paradise,” a splashy revue of Broadway songs and pop tunes featuring professional singers and dancers from the casts of Broadway and Los Angeles shows. Still to come this summer will be the annual “Fantastical Family Night,” a choreography-heavy show called “Shall We Dance,” and a season-closing weekend titled simply “Gala Celebration.”

Though this morning’s sun-drenched stroll is still a couple of weeks before June 15th’s opening night, Biryukov says her team is all ready to begin the challenging transformation of this bucolic space — once called home by the legendary author whose name the park now bears — into a sprawling, festival-like wonderland ready to welcome the season’s first guests.

“Starting Monday, we’re coming in full force,” says Biryukov, leading the way across a field that will soon welcome pre-show picnickers with tables, food trucks, wine and beer stations, and more. “We’ll be building everything ourselves,” she explains. “We’ll be building 50 picnic tables out here, setting up the VIP area with chairs and tables over there. Up in the winery ruins we’ll be building a stage, building the dressing rooms, setting up the tech booth area, setting up hundreds of chairs — pretty much everything. I know it looks empty now, but somehow, we will fill up this whole big, beautiful space - the way we do every year.”

This summer marks the seventh season that Transcendence will be staging shows here at Jack London Park. Ever since 2012, the Broadway Under the Stars series has become one of the biggest events of the summer in the North Bay. The event draws audiences of up to 800 people per performance, entertaining thousands of attendees every summer (127,000 to date), raising over $367,000 for Jack London State Park along the way.

Biryukov joined the team three years ago, after answering an ad posted on Indeed.com.

“We clicked right away,” she says of interviewing with Transcendence founders Amy Miller, Brad Surovsky, and Stephan Stubbins. “I like their positivity, and their commitment to the community.”

Previous to Biryukov’s being hired to manage all of Transcendence’s events — from the Broadway Under the Stars shows to the company’s Spring and Christmas shows in Santa Rosa and Marin County, plus various fundraisers, regular “happy hour” events for major donors, and the company’s annual Skits Under the Stars events at local wineries — she moved away from Petaluma for ten years. During that decade, she studied psychology at UC San Diego, worked as a drug and alcohol counselor, and eventually helped run a restaurant in Boston with her husband Serge and a couple of friends. It was there that Biryukov began staging special events and parties for customers, essentially teaching herself the trade of event management. Now she’s managing one of Sonoma County’s largest and most ambitious annual summertime happenings.

PLANNING TO GO?

What: Broadway Under the Stars, presented by Transcendence Theatre Company

When: “Stairway to Paradise” – Friday-Sunday, June 15-July 1; “Fantastical Family Night” – Friday & Saturday, July 13 & 14; “Shall We Dance” – Friday-Sunday, August 3-19; “Gala Celebration” – Friday-Sunday, September 7-9; All shows 7:30 p.m.; gates open at 5 p.m.

Where: Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen.

Admission: Tickets are $45/$50 general (advance/at the door); $65-$75 Select; $$85-$99 Premium; $139-$150 VIP.

Information: TranscendenceTheatre.org.

“That’s so cool, isn’t it?” she says. “Sometimes I can’t believe how fortunate I am to be doing what I do. It’s really hard work, obviously. It’s a very labor-intensive operation. But it gives me a lot of joy, it really does, to be a part of this. At the end of the night, because I also help with the shuttles taking people down to the parking lots at Benziger Winery, I get to hear how happy people are after the show is over. They’re always chatting and singing. I love it.”

Though it’s a bit less glamorous, Biryukov says that in addition to organizing the shuttles — and the hundreds of other tasks she oversees — she’s also the person in charge of obtaining dozens and dozens of Porta-potties, every weekend when shows are happening.

With a lively laugh, she exclaims, “Oh! And speaking of that, this is so exciting, for me anyway, because this year we’re going to have a ‘luxury trailer’ with toilets. So there’s going to be air conditioning and lights. And the toilets will actually flush! It’s very exciting. I never thought I’d get so thrilled about toilets, but with an event this big, toilets are a major part of the operation.”

Since the subject of Porta-potties has been brought up, Biryukov also allows that it’s the events team that creates and installs scores of amusing and inspirational quotes in the porta-potties, a kind of Transcendence Theatre tradition.

“Everybody loves those quotes,” Biryukov laughs. “They’re so, so good.”

Biryukov — whose parents, Chuck and Karen Latham, still live in Petaluma — attended Petaluma High School, where she played on the volleyball team, and served as Rally Commissioner. As she now leads the way up a short trail and into the winery ruins, where the shows take place, she talks about balancing her work for Transcendence with her other gig as mother to a 6-month-old boy.

“Yes! All this and I have a Charlie too!” she says. “It’s a whole new ballgame with him, obviously, having to juggle all of this with also being a mother. But you find a way to make it work, and my parents are very involved as well. They live nearby, so they help out with Charlie a lot. And my husband, Serge, is amazing.”

Serge, she adds, is a co-owner of Petaluma’s Sons of Salvage furniture company, which builds fully functional art pieces out of reclaimed wood. Serge has even built a brand new picnic table out of such material for this year’s Broadway Under the Stars picnic area.

Asked to point out her favorite spot at Jack London Park, Biryukov replies that, in her case, it’s not a favorite place so much as a favorite time.

“For me, my favorite time is just after everyone has left, and we’re closing up,” she says. “There’s such a serene moment that I get to have. It’s dark out here, and you can hear everything all around you. I love that moment. It makes me feel in touch with this place. And then I can think, “All right! There’s another show in the history books. Another audience greeted and welcomed and taken care of and shown a great time.’

And then I think,” she adds with another laugh, “’Now … we get to do it again tomorrow!’”