Made in Kern County: Ford Theater

Arts and music coming alive in Shafter
Posted at 9:47 PM, Jul 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-22 15:58:17-04

We all know agriculture is big here in Kern County. For more than 100 years the community of Shafter has been at the center of farming in Kern County and around the world. Providing much of our country the nuts, fruits and vegetables it depends on. 

And farming has been very good for one local family in the Shafter community. The Starrh family has been farming in the area for decades, but they wanted to do something more than just tending to the land---they wanted to touch the hearts and minds of the community they have called home for so many years.
So just off Lerdo Highway, something big is happening, something better than they could have imaged--the arts, and music coming alive in the Shafter community. 

Larry Starrh, who has been helping with his family's farm for nearly his entire life says he wanted to do more than farming. Away from the pistachio and almond orchards is where he's turning that dream into a reality. 

It’s what brought us to the Ford Theater and Larry’s newest project. ”If you’re going to have any kind of influence helping people consume art, understand art-- be part of art-- there needs to be places to do that.” 

A desire to build and finance Shafter’s first true community theater, that began long before his family picked the venue. ”i went on to get a major in theater, my major was in musical theater kind of crazy." said Starrh. 

In fact, Starrh has taught theater classes at Bakersfield College over the years, always making sure his dream of being involved in the theater world was not that far out of reach.

A little more than a year ago, Starrh came up the concept for the Ford Community Theater. He spent months completely transforming the building, once home to Shafter's first Ford car dealership. ”This is actually where they used to work on then cars," Starrh explains as he points out his favorite features of the theater.  

”The theater I worked at for many years had a thrust stage, so that means that it comes out into the audience, and that makes in very intimate.” 

So Starrh has the stage at the Ford Theater designed the same way. Along with hundreds of comfortable seats, state-of-the-art lighting and back stage equipment. 
A grand design that is setting up Shafter to lead the way in community theater productions. "The community has been hugely supportive," Starrh said.  

And that support is what is inspired Starrh to invite one of the great non-profit organizations in Kern County to be part of the Ford Theater.

Just inside the entrance of the theater, Covenant Coffee now operates their second location. ”It’s a good fit for us as were working with former foster youth, to really expose them to another business model," said Covenant Coffee founder Randy Martin.

"This build out is never something we could have done, you’ve seen the place--- this would fit into any major metropolitan city in the world, but it’s here in Shafter," said Martin.

An idea to bring not only coffee from around the world, but to expose some of Kern County’s hardest working residents to what the world of the theater and arts has to offer. 

"You know what I found in this county? There is just a boatload of really talented people," Starrh said. But he says many of those people spend their days hard at work, often putting their passions for art and music on the back burner.

Providing a place for talent to come out of the shadows, Larry says his wish for theater goers and participants is simple

"We want a place where community rises and cultural differences go away," Starrh said. "Where good things happen instead of bad things, that's what we want."

The Ford Theater and Coveant Coffee is located at 1101 E. Lerdo Highway in Shafter.