From Burlesque to B Street

JayRob History


On Tuesday evening, April 24th, a packed auditorium was able to listen to a panel of Sacramento theatre professionals and non-professionals describe the history of live theatre in Sacramento from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present.

The panel consisted of Melanie Smith, Mary Ellen Burns, Ray Tatar, Dick Baldwin, Larry Shumate and James Wheatley. Each participant had approximately seven minutes to present their portion of the discussion.

Mary Ellen Burns discussed the history from the Eagle Theatre to the middle of the twentieth century, and although she had a marvelous series of photos to illustrate that history, including some of the JayRob actors, technical problems presented the projection of those photos to take place. Ray Tatar discussed theatre from then to the present, including references to the JayRob theatre, including the vaudeville background of Justus and Alice.

I discussed the importance of documenting theatre history and touched on the impact which JayRob had on theatres that followed its run. Larry Shumate highlighted the impact of the Sac State theatre program and James Wheatley discussed his involvement with the Celebration Arts Theatre.

The presentations were limited to about 7 minutes each and provided a unique perspective to the program.

As I began my presentation, I read a brief statement, which follows:

When Larry (Shumate) and I were at a reception recently honoring the donations of the Gerard and Georgia B. Larson Theatre Collection to the Sacramento State University Archives, I was struck by a comment made by Georgia, which I will paraphrase:

“Stage Theatre is the only art form that has a high degree of impermanence.”

Think of that comment. Once a stage production or series of productions have ended, the only permanence is in the memory of the contributors and the audience. Once those individuals are gone, the art of the productions is gone.

Compare that with other art forms: sculptures and paintings will often outlive their artists by generations, even centuries. Movies have a built-in permanence through film reels. Even radio and television programs, through the use of audio and video recordings, can be shared throughout the years, way beyond their production dates.

That’s why it is so important for Sacramento to consider a Museum of Sacramento Theatre History, and why I am attempting to honor a major contributor to that history by writing a book on JayRob, the Sacramento theatre company named for the nicknames of the father-son combination, Justus and Robert Wyman. JayRob had its beginning over a half century ago and now includes only two persons still living who were active contributors throughout its seventeen seasons.

The first of these is Diana (Lions) Wyman, who had the female lead in JayRob’s initial production, ‘Oh, Men! Oh, Women!’ in 1956 and, in addition to several additional roles throughout the years, was also the publicity director and graphic artist for most of that time. Her contribution expanded when she married the Rob of JayRob early in the series and began another major chain of theatrical events through their children and grandchildren.

The other living contributor is Phil Bettens, a long-time friend of the Wyman family who was the technical director and stage manager for the main programs throughout JayRob’s entire existence, and who was the best man at Bob and Diana’s wedding.

I’m attempting to honor JayRob’s contribution to Sacramento theatre by co-authoring, with Diana and Phil, ‘The History of the JayRob Theatre of Sacramento, 1956 – 1973.’ It’s a major feat, but one which I look forward to completing before the three of us pass away.

I currently have a website, which contains much of the material which eventually will find its way into the book: I urge you to log on and add any posts that you consider of importance.

I then spent the rest of my time briefly discussing the seventeen seasons of JayRob. I asked if any in the audience had participated in any JayRob productions, and received three responses: one was a member of the panel, Mary Ellen Burns. A second was a lady who indicated she was in one of the later season’s shows. A third was a man who said he had worked with Justus Wyman (assumedly on one of his shows) at McClellan Air Force Base.

The rest of the evening was spent in a Q & A format. At the end, Melanie summarized the discussion by indicating the extent to which theatre is alive in Sacramento.