The history of the Performing Arts in Borrego Springs usually comes as a surprise to anyone not closely associated with this unique desert community...
Lon Chaney Jr. of the famed theatrical family started a community theater group in Borrego in 1950. The Little Theater Group performed before limited audiences at the old Hoberg Resort Hotel (now the Palms Hotel at Indian Head) which in the 40s and 50s hosted such glitter as Marilyn Monroe, Bing Crosby and Marlon Brando. Paula "Polly" Baker, very well known in the East as Paula Dale with the Greenwich Theater, New York City, picked up the torch left by Chaney in 1952. In 1955 the group presented "Years Ago", written by Ruth Gordon. A success, the group was invited to present the play for the entertainment of patients at the San Diego Naval Hospital.
The Little Theater Group reorganized in March 1954 as the De Anza Players with Polly Baker as producer-director. Barbara Bartko became deeply involved in the De Anza Players in 1961 when Baker's duties at the Borrego Sun newspaper took more of her time. Bartko's theater training started in Cleveland and continued in Long Beach. A popular artistic director, she held the reins of the organization until 1971, serving as both president and artistic director. Bartko directed over 50 plays during her career. De Anza Players performances were presented on the wing-less proscenium stage at Borrego Springs Elementary School.
In November 1978, the inactive De Anza Players supported the organization of the Sunrise Players. Lisa Bruce and Joan Wright (Warren and Toni Young's daughter) organized the group, whose first production was Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit," presented in March 1979 at the Elementary School. Under the artistic direction of Jared Fey, a professional actor and member of Actors' Equity, Sunrise Players second production, "The Grouch," a Greek New Comedy by Menander, was performed in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Palm Canyon campfire center and then taken to the North County Renaissance Faire in Vista. With tremendous local support of community members, businesses and irreplaceable fund-raising efforts of Betty Stout, Jared and his wife, Rosemary, were able to present quality community theater productions for 8 years. Sunrise Players most ambitious project was the musical "Oliver" with a cast of more than 130! The joint production by Sunrise Players and Borrego Springs High School (BSHS) was an acclaimed success. Proceeds allowed Sunrise Players to present a $1000.00 donation to the Associated Student Body at BSHS as the school's share of profits. Jared Fey continued as artistic director until his passing in 1985. Sunrise Players' last production, "To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday", was presented in March 1987 under the artistic direction of Rosemary Fey.