The Solvang Theaterfest's Red Coats recently gathered for their annual evening of recognition and jubilation -- sans red coats.

Red Coat volunteer ushers, known for their easy-to-locate theater garb (longer-length red blazers and black slacks) and for assisting patrons the moment they enter the theater until the last guest leaves, were honored by Theaterfest board members at the annual family-style picnic on May 23.

“The picnic is an annual event celebrating the invaluable contribution made by our Red Coat volunteers, and held at the start of each summer’s season. Red Coats come in all shapes and sizes, ages 13 to 99, and are all identifiable to our audiences by the bright red coats and jackets they wear," said Executive Director of the Solvang Theaterfest, Mary Ann Norbom. "Red Coats may not be up on stage but they play an integral role in the history of Solvang Festival Theater.”

The early evening appreciation barbecue was held on the Solvang Festival Theater grounds and attended by PCPA's Artistic Director/Associate Dean, Mark Booher.

He talked about the PCPA's four upcoming summer plays and praised the seated volunteers for their "co-creation" in the theatrical productions. "We really are a team that makes play-going possible. You all do such a beautiful and important job in welcoming, greeting and helping the community. On behalf of the company, I want to thank you all. You are each a part of the art."

Theaterfest Board Chair Chris Nielsen echoed Booher's sentiments. "We just couldn't do this without you. There's no way. Everything that we do and everything that the Theaterfest is, couldn't be done without you," he said.

Nielson then called to the front, under one of the theater's old oak trees, longtime Red Coat Jim Patin, and presented him with the first-ever Volunteer of the Year award. 

According to Norbom, Patin has become the unofficial face of the Red Coats because he works many events each year, and is almost always at the front gate taking tickets. With his white mustache and infectious laugh, he is a memorable personality for almost all who enter the grounds, she said.

Patin was caught off guard by the celebratory spectacle. "This is an unbelievable surprise. Thank you!", he said, accepting a mounted crystal award that said “You Make a Difference – Jim Patin – 2018 Red Coat Volunteer of the Year." 

The Solvang Festival Theater was built in 1974 by the community in an effort to revitalize the town of Solvang and bring visitors to the Valley.

And according to volunteers, it's achieved its goal.

Grandma Ruth Seeley, 99, of Ballard, who has been a Theaterfest volunteer for nearly 20 years, said, "I love that I get to see the plays for free and visit with many different people." She added, "I really enjoy the chocolate chip cookies Solvang Bakery makes." 

With Seeley to enjoy the occasion, was her daughter and fellow Red Coat, Linda Preston, and her friend Susan Williams.

Gloria Montague of Lompoc, who has been a Red Coat for eight years, said a few of her personal favorite productions to assist with are Patsy Cline and Man of La Mancha.

Whether taking a ticket, distributing a program, a blanket to rent on a chilly night, or acting as a guide to direct show-goers to their seats, a Red Coat will be there.

For tickets, visit: www.pcpa.org. For information about becoming a Red Coat volunteer, contact Solvang Festival Theater at 805-686-1789, or email theaterfest@verizon.net. The website is www.solvangfestivaltheater.org

Lisa André is the Lifestyle Editor for the Santa Ynez Valley News. You can follow her on twitter @LAndreSYVNews

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