‘Chicken’s Ball’ makes time stand still in our fast-paced world

Note: Story of the Chicken’s Ball, a 78-year San Carlos tradition. Auditions scheduled for
Nov. 16 and 18.
Photos/video available on request
Contact: Louise Della Maggiora ldellama@comcast.net. 650-593-9786

Even with today’s dazzling entertainment options, a group of talented Peninsula performers wants to turn your attention to hometown center stage – live and local, gently bawdy. Vaudeville style.
And it’s not just the show – the semi-annual Chicken’s Ball is celebrating its 78th year in San Carlos in 2018. Members of this passionate group say the “best kept secret” is how participating helps you discover real community in our isolating virtual world.
Back stage, they say, is the stuff of local legend: Colorful creativity laced with crazy pranks, great parties and friendly competition. Lifelong friendships are made, true love found (and sometimes redirected) and talent discovered for everything from acting and dancing to costume and set design, writing and choreography.
Most of the 100-plus participants today are people who fell in love with creating fun, local theatre that also helps raise money for San Carlos schools. They’ve handed that passion down generation to generation since 1940.
Kathy Smallman, born in San Carlos in 1963, has been involved with the Ball since 1990, but she has been around the ball for most of her life. Her parents started with the PTA at Laureola School, one of several PTA’s that contributed everything from set design and prop painting to costumes and skit writing.
“My fondest memory was the first year we participated as a family – my dad, mom and husband,” Smallman recalls. “My dad was a super set designer and always painted the curtain. Mom was extremely funny – she did everything from skits to ticket sales and production. She had a laugh. I can still hear that laugh.
“I remember one year I had to sit out because I was close to giving birth to my daughter, Sarah, but my husband and mom carried on with the show. I had to call my husband twice to tell him to get off the stage and come home because I was in labor.”
Lyndsey Smith, 37 years old and also a San Carlos native, got involved in 1998, inspired by her mom, Ricklay (Ricki) who started performing and designing costumes in the 1980s and still takes the stage today.
“I grew up with her crazy costumes. I was taken by the feathers and sequins,” Smith recalls. “I couldn’t wait to be part of it, to perform with Mom.”
Ditto Gayle Collins, 65, another local native who followed her parents into the show in 1982 and introduced her daughter Heather to the stage in 2006. Her husband Ron currently is a show judge.
“I was always very shy, but I guess I really am a ham,” she says. “Being in the Chicken’s Ball made me realize that with makeup and costumes, you can do anything.”
Sue Court, 75, began her Chicken’s Ball career in 1960. “My father played a Keystone Cop, and my mom danced in the garden club skits,” Court recalls. “I brought my babies to rehearsals in a buggy. For me, dancing is my passion. I’ve done it all my life.”
The Chicken’s Ball is rooted in both San Carlos and San Francisco history. The San Francisco original began in late 1800’s San Francisco’s Barbary Coast saloons. Local vaudeville performers, seeking to soften their bawdy reputation, staged special extra performances in glittery costumes of feathers and sequins to raise money for local charities. Those feathery costumes inspired the name “Chicken’s Ball.”
In 1939, Howard J. Demeke, a San Carlos teacher, was looking for ways to raise money for Central School, the only school in town at the time. He decided to revive the Gay ‘90s Chicken’s Ball tradition in his home town, and the first show was staged in 1940.
Since then, the biennial event has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local schools. The group claims the title of being the longest running PTA fundraiser in the United States.
Over the years, the original PTA groups that contributed scripts, production and design spun off into a number of smaller entertaining and script writing groups, some that perform “entres,” which are short song and dance numbers staged between the main skits.
The groups include the Junior Matrons, Friday Night Funnies, Barbary Coasters, the Maids and Matronettes, and the Clay Pipers. Years ago, the Pipers even extended their reach into Amador City where they rented a hall, went up on Friday nights, performed on Saturday and came home on Sunday.
Today, the members are hoping to attract more interest in the show, both in creating it and seeing it staged in April 2018. The theme is “Time Stands Still,” fashioned after the House of Shields, an iconic San Francisco bar on Montgomery Street where you won’t find a single clock or television.
People are amazed at how fast time seems to go by these days. Chicken’s Ball enthusiasts say their “Time Stands Still” theme is a reminder of what can happen if you turn your attention from the clock and TV, slowing down a little to make friends and have fun the old-fashioned way.
“We’re concerned about the future,” Smith says, “Today everybody works the lifestyle of Silicon Valley. Parents are super busy, and many don’t even know the Ball is contributing to their children’s schools. People are wrapped up in a virtual world. It’s hard to get their attention.
“We want to get more people – especially young people – involved, let them see this is how you get to know your community.
“You spend several nights a week from January to April working on the show with your Chicken’s Ball friends. They become family,” Smith says. “I can’t go downtown San Carlos anymore without seeing someone I know. That’s awesome.
“You rarely find someone who’s only done it once. It’s all about community, having fun and working for a common goal. Once you’ve done it,” Smith promises, “you’re hooked.”

How to join the fun in this local vaudeville show
The 2018 show is in production now, with show dates set for the last two weeks in April. Tickets are available through the web site.
Auditions for performing, production and general volunteer involvement are set for Nov. 16, 6-9 p.m. and Nov. 18, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Heather School in San Carlos. Appointments are not necessary – just show up.
“Everyone is welcome,” Court says. “We need actors, non-speaking extras, dancers, singers and people interested in everything from set design, choreography and production to backstage management or simply selling tickets.”
For more information about the Ball or how to participate, visit the website: Chickensball.com, or call Sue Court, 650-207-0366, email: lacy340@aol.com.

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