The Bent theater company staged Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde at Palm Springs Cultural Center in October.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRISTINA FRARY
Debbie Miller recalls sharing a Palm Springs newspaper article with her stepmother in July of 2022 that listed the top 10 things to do in town.
“Seven of the 10 were at Palm Springs Cultural Center,” says Miller, the daughter and stepdaughter of the late Ric and Rozene Supple, who founded the 501(c)(3) center in 2007. The couple, who owned R&R Broadcasting (radio stations), purchased what serves as the organization’s home in 1999, after Metropolitan Theatres abandoned the venue on the edge of Palm Springs Mall (now demolished and the site of a future College of the Desert campus). The Supples revived Camelot Theatres for film, though leaned toward the art-house model versus mainstream Hollywood, but then developed broader plans.
“The direction the center is going now is exactly the direction they wanted in terms of programming,” says Miller, who sits on the nonprofit’s board though she resides in Sitka, Alaska. By “direction,” she means a panoply of live entertainment, art, and farmers’ markets in addition to film.
“We have tried to expand our offerings to include more and more kinds of cultural programs,” says Michael Green, executive director of the cultural center that rented space for presentations in the Camelot building until the Supples gifted it the structure and land that includes 53 parking spaces. Now it rents to other organizations needing event space.
Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.
“It was their dream to leave a legacy in the arts in the Coachella Valley,” Green says. “It was their goal to nurture, encourage — and sometimes even help other people create — cultural programs. For a long time, the center focused on film programs and farmers’ markets. But when we took over the building, we converted Theater 3 for live plays. We are trying to be the place where theater companies have a home,” he explains.
“My stepmom said, ‘We have got to make Theater 3 first class for performers,’” Miller says, referring in part to backstage dressing rooms, “so they can perform at their best.”
The center now offers its 125-seat space to three thespian groups: Desert Ensemble Company, The Bent, and Inner Circle Theater Company.
In furtherance of serving as a multifaceted forum with, as Miller describes it, “a broad spectrum of what you can share in a community while supporting artists in many disciplines,” the center has — figuratively as well as literally — amplified the live-music scene. In the upstairs lounge, which seats 55, musical genres encompassed include Motown, blues, gospel, rock, oldies, gypsy jazz, modern cowboy, Broadway tunes, and folk — the latter paired with an open mic. (Food is available from downstairs Mildred’s menu.)
“Additionally,” Green says, “we have music series: Broadway’s Best in the West [monthly concerts from December through March] and Sand, Stars & Guitars [a mix of Americana, country, bluegrass, and folk in nine concerts monthly from October through June]. Then we have one-offs, including the Glen Miller Orchestra on its annual West Coast tour.” Those performances take place in the 95-seat Theater 1. In January, the center partnered with Palm Springs International Piano Competition, CV Philharmonic Society, and Youth Training Orchestras of America to present three evenings of keyboard music featuring a 1958 Bösendorfer grand piano.
Wildflowers folk singers Dede Ondishko and Boo Rigney perform.
With 170 seats, Theater 2 remains devoted to film, but even there the offerings are eclectic and celebratory. Rather than compete with mainstream theaters showing new Hollywood releases, its Summer Heat Film Series featured steamy classics that included A Streetcar Named Desire, Rear Window, and 12 Angry Men. Recent retrospectives highlighted directors Federico Fellini and Martin Scorsese. Additionally, Desert Film Society presents a semimonthly program of art, independent, and international movies on Saturday mornings.
“They get films between the festival circuit and distribution,” Green notes.
The center also embraces cultish kitsch. In May, it screened Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the Bad News From Outer Space series (e.g., Night of the Lepus starring Janet Leigh and rampaging giant bunnies) with live riffs by cinephile hosts.
During the pandemic, board member Ann Sheffer funded an outdoor screening system to convert the parking lot into a “drive-in” theater. That equipment has since allowed the center to take its mission off-site with free, classic family flicks in the park across from Palm Springs Art Museum.
“It gives us an opportunity to have a downtown presence,” Green says, adding that P.S. Resorts has subsidized that program.
Lastly, in terms of film, the center hosts the Cinema Diverse and Arthur Lyons Film Noir festivals and screenings for Palm Springs International Film Festival and its ShortFest.
Rounding out the center’s promotion of creativity are art exhibitions in the lobby and lounge and a certified farmers’ market every Saturday (outdoors October through May and across the street in Palm Springs Pavilion from June through September), as well as one on Sundays from October through April outside the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce on Highway 111.
The second-floor lounge seats more than 50 guests for live music and cocktails.
“The only thing we struggle with is that maintenance, utilities, and property taxes are very expensive,” Miller says. Fundraising is challenged by the local public’s assumption that Ric and Rozene Supple created an endowment. Rather, Miller says, they established a family foundation to serve a range of charitable organizations and “the idea was that [the cultural center] could stand on its own two feet and get grants.”
After completing Theater 3 upgrades, Green says, he hopes to also create a backstage for Theater 1.
Miller, her sister, and her stepbrother will arrive from Sitka, San Francisco, and Claremont in March and have tickets for the last concert in this season’s “Broadway’s Best in the West.”
“I know Rozene would jump up and down with joy. She loved Broadway,” Miller says.
Ric Supple died in May of 2021 and Rozene Supple in July of 2022, the same month as the newspaper article heralding the cultural center constellation.