California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

Roberge, Birney Take Stage For “Love Letters” On March 4

Published: March 1, 2012

CSULB’s Carpenter Performing Arts Center Executive Director Michele Roberge and award-winning actor and director David Birney will perform in A.R. Gurney’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “Love Letters” as a fundraiser for the center’s popular Classroom Connections program.

The performance will be held on Sunday, March 4, at 2 p.m. at the Carpenter Center. Each $50 tax deductible donation to Classroom Connections will receive one ticket.

“David Birney is a friend of mine, and last summer was asked to do a performance for his reunion at Dartmouth College,” said Roberge, now in her ninth year at CSULB and fifth as the executive director of the Carpenter Center. “He and I had done ‘Love Letters’ a couple of years earlier and he asked me if I would go to Dartmouth and do it with him as part of the activities of reunion weekend. Frankly, I thought it was a good idea so all the wives would have something to do while the husbands were off playing golf. It was pouring rain the day of the performance, so all the men came to the show, too. It went so well that I asked him if he would do it at the Carpenter Center and he graciously agreed.”

The play, first performed on stage in 1988, tells the story of two characters, who sit side-by-side and read notes, letters and cards in which they reveal the hopes and ambitions, dreams and disappointments, victories and defeats of their separate lives.

“It’s a lovely piece and beautifully written,” said Roberge. “The play spans a lifetime through letters and I think it’s unavoidable that audience members think of their own lives and the people who come and go out of it. It’s a very sweet, funny play. I think everybody can relate to missed opportunities and bad decisions and the different paths your life can take. That’s what ‘Love Letters’ is all about.”

Proceeds from the event will support the center’s Classroom Connections project, a three-part program that introduces Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) elementary students to the performing arts.

In the first part of the program, Carpenter Center teachers go into classrooms to introduce students to an art form and talk about the artist they will soon meet. And, since many of these students have never been to a live theatre they are also taught theatre etiquette.

Love Letters Photo of pair
David Birney (l) and Michele Roberge

In the following week, the professional artists visit each classroom so students can meet and interact, perhaps learning a dance, song, or other creative activities. For the final part of the program, students come to the Carpenter Center and witness a fully produced performance.

“We fill the theatre with 1,060 kids and they are completely engaged,” said Roberge, “because now they get to see a performance with the person they met who is on stage with costumes, lights, sounds and all the other production values.”

Each year more than 3,000 students participate in the Classroom Connections program, which is funded through the generosity of the Arts Council for Long Beach, Bess Hodges Foundation, Dwight Stuart Youth Foundation, L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, Long Beach Rotary Foundation and many generous individual donors.

“We offer this program to the Long Beach Unified schools for free,” said Roberge, noting the center does three such events annually. “They do not pay anything to participate. It’s quite a unique, program and is consistently full to capacity, with a waiting list of classrooms that want to participate.

“The Carpenter Center relies on the support of foundations and private donors to provide Classroom Connections to LBUSD schools. This performance of ‘Love Letters’ will be of great help in ensuring its continuation. I’m so grateful that David is supportive of the arts and of the work we do here,” she continued. “He is so generous in volunteering his time for this performance and he is really good in this part. Really good.”

For tickets, contact the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at 562/985-7000.