SEEING RED Flynn Creek Circus knife-thrower David Jones and his associate, Blaze Birge, will perform onstage at the Ravens' Winter Gala, Friday, Feb. 23, along with other acts, to put the fun in fundraising.

Imagine if Healdsburg had a performing arts center located right downtown, which offered a stage for performers, an audience for musicians and theater, a school for youth and a troupe for all ages. That would be pretty cool, right?

Well there already is such a place, of course, the Raven Performing Arts Center, at the old Raven née Aven Theater on North Street. The town’s rundown movie palace was purchased and remodeled in 1987; with the opening of the Raven Film Center 10 years later, it was bought in 2001 by the nonprofit Raven Performing Arts Theater, whose executive director was Tom Brand.

DIRECTOR Tom Brand, executive director of the Raven Performing Arts Theater, on vacation at the Grand Canyon.

He still heads the nonprofit, and the operating committee, along with Raven Players director Steven David Martin and a handful of others. The low-key pitch that Brand delivers for donations above the ticket cost before many of the theater’s shows is fully in keeping with the modest mien of the arts theater and the man himself—on brand, one might say.

“We’re not really aggressive fundraisers,” admits Brand candidly. “There are some nonprofits where you get something in your mail every week. We tend to be more [like], when we need the money, we ask for it.”

Last year they ran a fundraising campaign for a new air conditioner—not as sexy as a new marquee, but an essential maintenance item long deferred. Yet as costs increase across the economy, even the local performing arts nonprofit has to keep up with the times, so to speak, as well as rising electric and water bills, taxes and other hard costs.

Next weekend, the Raven Performing Arts Theater will be doing something a little different for them, but still in character. They’re holding a Winter Gala fundraiser. And to no one’s surprise, the action on the stage will be worth twice the ticket—which includes wine and beer, six food stations, live and silent auctions.

All About the Show

It may be a gala, but it’s not all sealed bids and paddles—at the Raven, it’s all about the show.

“We wanted a couple things in it that are going to be fun, different, which represent the touring professional things we do here,” said Brand. 

The natural place to turn, of course, is the circus—the Flynn Creek Circus from Mendocino County, an archaic troupe of magicians, dancers, acrobats and actors. Of course, the whole circus would be too much, even for the remodeled Raven extended stage. But decisions had to be made, so a knife thrower—complete with a game assistant—and a blow-dart marksperson were signed up.

“We have changed the sharpshooter we had originally advertised, at the recommendation of the circus, to a dart blower,” said Brand.

WILL’S WAKE Steven David Martin as John Heminges in ‘The Book of Will,’ by Lauren Gunderson, as staged at the Raven in 2022. At left is Mary DeLorenzo.

It’s not all the death-defying antics of the Flynn Creek Circus, however. Several Raven Players favorites will take the stage—try to keep them off—including Katie Watts Whitaker, both solo and with her husband, Dennis Whitaker; Declan Hackett and Elliot Davis of “Joseph and the Amazing…,” who will be doing a song-and-dance rendition of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”;  and the youthful Santa Rosa-based Nordquist-Taylor Ballroom Dancers, who will show off their steps.

To no one’s surprise, Steven David Martin himself will emcee. The chameleonic actor, director, bon vivant and scriptwriter—his latest cable series on a small community theater in a Northern California town is currently shopping—claimed  he doesn’t have any soliloquies or magic tricks up his sleeve, But, he said, it is a fundraiser, “so if somebody pays me a lot of money, I’ll do pretty much anything.”

Among the many providers who are contributing fare for the gala are Seghesio, Orsi, BloodRoot and Korbel wines, as well as food from Kinsmoke, The Wurst, Bravas, Guiso, Taste of Tea and Costeaux. Plus there will be the company of other Raven supporters for the night.

The price of the ticket is $100 general admission, $125 up-front seating. There are the usual silent auction items donated by local businesses and individuals, and a live auction with such lots as dinner for six prepared by chef Carlos of Guiso, the Italian restaurant just off the theater’s lobby; a glamping overnight at Safari West; three autographed Tom Waits albums—all the classics, be it noted—and more.

Celebration of Community

Said Martin, “The underlying thing about the event is yes, obviously it’s a fundraiser, but it’s also, and it’s kind of cliche, but it’s true: It’s really a celebration of the community. It’ll be a great opportunity for all these like-minded people to get together and just have some wine, have some nibbles, enjoy a great evening of entertainment and celebrate each other.”

Drying his eyes, he continued, “We literally couldn’t do anything in that theater without the support of the community. So it’s not just a money grabbing adventure, although we do want to grab as much money as possible…”

COMMUNITY The Raven supports local music, drama, dance and children’s programs.

Perhaps surprisingly, this is the Raven’s first fundraising gala. “We’re going to see what people like, what they don’t like,” said Brand. “If it all goes well, it’ll be an annual event, and then we’ll hone it, see what works and see how we can do it better for next year.”

The Chamber of Commerce, the Healdsburg Arts Center, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival and other performance spaces have galas with some regularity, noted Brand. He’s hoping that the Friday, Feb. 23 gala for the Raven cuts through the noise.

“Sometimes things that have been around for a long time get taken for granted,” he said. “Everyone wants the new shiny thing, and then they forget, you know, we’ve got to support this thing too.

“It’s kind of like the road, you know?” said Brand metaphorically. “You’ve got to repave the road every so often if you want it to keep it working. And you got to support the old nonprofits that have been in town forever and not take them for granted.”

The Raven Theater Winter Gala will be held Friday, Feb. 23, at the theater, 115 North St. Doors open at 6:30pm, show starts at 7:30. Tickets at

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


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