Peter Wolfe

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Peter Wolfe sits down for a conversation about Imagination Theater, Placerville’s beloved non-profit community theater, which he co-founded in 2000. He is currently serving as its Artistic Director.

 

Peter Wolfe co-founded Imagination Theater in 1999 with his good friend Lanny Langston. At the time, they had a simple vision: “Meet people’s needs and be nice about it.” Soon after, they had a mission statement: Tell good stories well, in an atmosphere of trust, respect, personal growth, and challenge. “It’s now 23 years and 67 productions later,” Peter Wolfe tells me. “Thousands have been on our stage and thousands have attended—and it’s all because of that goal that we had in the beginning.”

 

As Peter and Lanny shaped the culture of Imagination Theater, they played what Peter calls “Respect Whack-a-Mole”, assiduously cultivating an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere. “If something didn’t look like it was respectful—BAM, we made it go away,” Peter laughs. “For example, for the first fifteen years, nobody had any titles. I was the ‘president’ on paper, but I never introduced myself that way.” Their commitment to culture has paid dividends, making Imagination Theater a beloved institution in the community.

 

In turn, that same community inspires and motivates Peter. “That’s what delights me about doing theater--helping to create joy for the audience and for the community,” he tells me. “On a Saturday afternoon on the hottest day in July, people come into our not-so-well air-conditioned theater, but the dad who was dragged along by his kid is awake and he’s listening and he’s enjoying it. For those two hours, people aren’t worried about daily life. They’re not thinking about their mortgage. As highfalutin as it sounds, when you’re doing a well-done play, you’re making the world a better place, for a couple hours, for everybody involved.”

 

As Peter reflects on his career—which followed a winding path through the coast guard and a career as an architect before arriving at Imagination Theater—he identifies a few lessons that he has learned along the way; his kids know them as “Dad’s Rules”. “There are no grown-ups in the world. My kids call that Dad’s Rule Number One,” Peter explains. “The other rules are Everybody’s faking it; Never let them see you sweat; and Never mess with the Grapevine—which is a metaphor for preparedness.” Having founded Imagination Theater as a relative neophyte, picking up skills and credibility as he went along, Peter has one particular piece of advice for his younger self: “I guess I would tell myself: Keep faking it. They’re not going to catch you… As long as you fake it well enough.”

 

Before Peter retires—in his own words, “before I turn 80”—Peter wants to create a “permanent, appropriate performing arts venue in El Dorado County.” As the co-architect of Imagination Theater, it is only fitting that Peter be the architect of Imagination Theater’s theater, a dedicated space for community theater with a greater capacity than the fairgrounds auditorium in which they have operated for decades. “If anybody is perfectly positioned to help spearhead that effort, I think it’s me,” Peter says. “I’m going to design a theater as if we have a perfect 4-acre site, irrespective of what the actual site ends up being, and I’m going to talk to every consultant possible, so that eventually I can hold up the plan with great conviction and say, ‘This costs this much. Give us the check and we’ll get it built.’ In 2024, I’ll start to focus on that fulltime.”

 

In the meantime, Peter continues to serve as Imagination Theater’s Artistic Director, developing engaging, high-quality theatrical productions that are by and for the El Dorado County community. Sadly, Lanny Langston passed away in 2019; Arts and Culture El Dorado created the Lanny Langston Young Artist Award in Theater in his memory. For Peter, the work is its own reward: “At least once a month, someone tells me that they didn’t know there was a theater in Placerville. I want people to know that it’s here. I love the way that it touches the community; I feel like if there’s a need here, then I can help. And if I create enough joy for others, I get some in return.”