Upland nonprofit theater group gives under-represented artists and theater professionals a platform to build their careers and inspire the community.

Beatrice Casagran and her daughter Caitlin Lopez founded Ophelia’s Jump Productions (OJP) in 2012 with the mission of giving opportunities onstage and offstage to individuals who often do not see themselves represented in theater. OPJ wanted there to be a greater range of opportunities in theater available to Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), women and LGBTQ+ individuals.

The organization also seeks out works by playwrights who are BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and those who are neurodiverse. By telling stories written by and presented by individuals not seen as often in theater settings, OPJ believes plays can encourage empathy, critical thinking and create meaningful conversations between audience members.

Casagran considers small theaters the farm teams for major productions. New works often find their first showing with smaller regional theaters with smaller revenues, she said. Technicians and actors also need to start somewhere to gain professional experience. While community theaters offer experience, professional theaters like OJP which pay their actors and technicians can be resume builders.

OJP is a teaching organization and many of its staff and interns go on to programs in higher education to pursue their careers. Miranda Tejeda interned with the organization in high school and while studying stage management at the University of La Verne. She was wait-listed for the graduate program in stage management at Columbia University. OJP employed Tejada as their resident stage manager and with that addition to her resume was ultimately accepted.

“There are so few Latino women in stage management,” Casagran said. “Technicians, makeup artists, and actor all need things on their portfolio. We have many young women who are now in grad school who will have careers, and this is what keeps me going.”

The last few years have been a challenge for Casagran, especially with the implementation of AB-5, a bill that requires that the organization must make everyone working on productions employees rather than having the flexibility of paying them stipends. This has tripled employment costs on a budget further impacted by inflation. In 2019 the organization had a budget of $185,000 and now requires $500,000 to continue operations.

Recently, OJP received a Community Impact grant through the Inland Empire Community Foundation which will assist in this season’s productions. In the past, the organization was able to cover 40% to 60% of its costs with ticket sales, but this year, ticket sales will only cover 20% to 30% of operations, Casagran said.

“People don’t realize the job creation theater provides or the economic impact it has on a community,” Casagran said. “It’s not just doling out money. The arts have a positive impact on the community economically, mentally, and through civic engagement.”

OJP is the only theater within a 30-mile radius presenting professional work, according to Casagran who said the economic benefit as well as the benefit of seeing professionally produced theater is impactful to the region. The audience may not agree with everything presented on stage but exploring the stories and the conversations they start are important, she said.

“Art is necessary and important for our society,” Casagran said. “We are community-based, but this isn’t a hobby. We strive to work professionally and give that experience to our artists.”

More information: https://opheliasjump.org/ or 909-734-6565

This article originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, September 2022

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