Lesher Center Gala

The Lesher Center, that big theater house at the corner of Locust and Civic, is one of the great treasures of Walnut Creek and the entire Diablo Valley.  A first rate complex with 3 separate theaters hosting dozens of productions every year to suit all tastes.  We see theater, ballet, opera, dance, comedy and an excellent speaker series.

Begun with generous funding from Dean Lesher, former publisher of the Contra Costa Times, the Lesher Center has been supporting the arts in this area for 21 years.

This kind of thing doesn’t come cheap, and ticket prices don’t cover the costs.  Hence, the annual On Broadway gala.  We were fortunate enough to be invited to go as the guests of Dick and Sally Ingram, who we know from the Ruth Bancroft Garden. In a small town like this, there are only so many people willing to be on the boards of the various organizations, and they tend to interlock quite a bit.

Sally and Dick Ingram, our hosts for the evening

 

Locust Street was blocked off for the evening, so a tent could be erected for the event. There were 560 people attending, eating dinner in the 75000 square foot tent.

"Horns up", I cried, and the fanfare began

 

We got there before 6, to enjoy the cocktail hour and check out the silent auction–these events are all about fundraising, and if you go you are expected to at least look at all the goodies they have for sale.  First, though, we had to get a drink, and we found a bar but no bartender, so I retreated to form, stepped behind the counter and started mixing drinks.  Gail’s white wine was easy, and I still remembered how to make a gin and tonic for Sally.  Fortunately, the real pro showed up and I could go try to spend money.

Technology is changing everything–where the gala we went to 2 weeks ago had long sheets of paper to enter your bid on, here we were given an iPod with special software to make it a bidding device.  You could look up any one of the items offered, see the current price and make your bid–it was all tied into a wireless network that instantly updated the auction and warned you if you were outbid on anything so you could raise your offer.  It’s a brilliant system, simplifying the process and making it easier to make more bids on more items in less time with no running around.  The company that does it, bidpal.com, also does the checking in at the door, getting the credit cards on file and collecting the money.  I suppose they get a percentage of the handle, but it sure is a great system.

You get issued one of these when you check in. No, it doesn't play music.

 

The items offered were interesting and varied–the one that got Gails attention was a ride in a zeppelin, for 4.  I was looking at the Zumba dance lessons, for about $50, but she took the device away from me and fixated on winning the zeppelin ride.  Fortunately, she didn’t.

Then came dinner, and it you can’t feed these people just any old burger.  There was a fancy salad, then a magnificent filet mignon.

Hard to get the colors right in the fancy lighting: it was perfectly rare and delicious.

 

Remember the great apple pie I had at Jack’s on Saturday afternoon?  God has a sense of humor–that was dessert at the gala.  They served this in a mason jar, just to be different.

Apple pie and whipped cream, no ice cream.

 

After dinner comes the big deal—the live auction.  There were 13 items offered, and they were all special and spectacular.  Barclay Simpson, who has been a big shot around here forever, offered his house in Umbria, Italy for 7 nights.  That went for $13,500, to Steve Lesher, son of Dean.

Laura Bush will be appearing in November as part of the speaker series, and dinner for 8 with her was offered.  Somebody paid $10,500 for that experience.  Not me.

Our host’s daughter, Holly, purchased tickets to the gala that will be held at the opening of the new Nieman Marcus store.  Seems odd to spend big money for the chance to go spend more big money at yet another gala, but people do that sort of thing.

Holly winning tickets to the Nieman Marcus gala. The auctioneer was right there to make the sale.

 

All told, they say the evening raised more than a quarter of a million dollars to fund the Lesher Center.

You get plenty for your admission ticket; after dinner we all trooped into the Hoffman Theater (the largest of the three in the complex) for a show by the Las Vegas comedienne Rita Rudner.  I have seen her before and enjoyed her show–gentle observational humor about men and women and married life.  She isn’t loud or bawdy or coarse, just funny and very, very human.

Rita Rudner on stage

There was dancing after the show to a live band, but we’d had all the fun we could stand and headed for home.  These charity galas are a pretty good deal–they raise a ton of money so everyone can enjoy theater or arts or gardens, you get a good dinner, a show and a chance to buy stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily think of for prices that should make your nose bleed, and everyone goes home happy.  It’s a sort of right-wing acceptable redistribution of wealth. What more could you ask?

 

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