Parkinson's CHAMP

The Central Coast Follies
Interview with Jason Sumabat, Artistic Director

What exactly is the Central Coast Follies? What do proceeds fund?
The Central Coast Follies is a small but mighty group of singers, dancers, and performers of all talents based in San Luis Obispo, California. Prior to 2018, Follies was based in Pismo Beach. Their annual show raises money for select non-profits. Follies members are lovingly described as “vintage,” members range in age from their 50s through 80s. They are thrilled to be back and performing in person this year on October 8-10, 2021! The net proceeds from this year’s fall performances will support The Parkinson Alliance. The Central Coast Follies has supported other non-profits in the past, and regularly supports The Parkinson Alliance.

What is the history behind the Central Coast Follies? How did the event come to be?
Nearly twenty years ago, Jason Sumabat, long-time Follies Artistic Director, was teaching a tap-dancing class to seniors. A student approached Jason about putting on a show; she wanted to put their dance skills to use. The decision was made to perform and raise funds for a worthy cause. The husband of another one of Jason’s tap-dancing students had Parkinson’s disease, and so that cause was selected, and that is how the connection between the Central Coast Follies and The Parkinson Alliance came to be.

With ten performers, the Follies debuted in their first show, on a shoestring budget, in 2003. It proved to be a cathartic experience for the dancers, it was a chance to do something that they never had the opportunity to do. Many of them had raised families or had careers, leaving little time for performing in earlier years. The show was also meaningful for the community, who not only enjoyed the show, but also played an integral role in raising funds for a worthy cause.

The Central Coast Follies has grown from its beginnings and plays an important role in the local community. During the pandemic, Follies members made care packages for low-income families, filled with everyday items to improve quality of life. They also work with foodbanks and are regularly undertaking community enrichment projects.

What role do you play?
Jason Sumabat, long-time Artistic Director, has 35 years of experience directing plays, musicals and shows. Prior to directing, Jason toured as a dancer with many famous acts, including Madonna and Janet Jackson. He also danced with the Academy of Dance and Gilbert Reed Ballet. He was the Studio Manager and a dance teacher with Pat Jackson American Dance for 15 years. He is the recipient of two FAME (Fine Art & Music Entertainment) awards, a great honor!

Jason is the Artistic Director of Central Coast Follies. From 2003-2020 Jason was also the Administrative Director. Jason has served in these roles solely as a volunteer for the past 18 years.

For the first fourteen years, Jason would commute every weekend for rehearsals from San Diego to Pismo Beach, a 1,000-mile trip and roughly a 6 hour drive each way.

As with everything, the pandemic created complications and Jason’s role with the organization expanded. Virtual rehearsals were quite the learning process when it came to DropBox and Zoom. Lucky for Follies members, Jason has an extensive background in IT. He held computer classes to help members become comfortable with these kinds of technology. Jason shares, “the Follies members have learned so much, two Follies members are even running the group’s social media campaign!”

During the height of the pandemic, dance and music classes were taught over Zoom. The group uses spreadsheets and other technologies to review musical progress and perfect performances. It has been a great tool.

Can you share any details about this year’s performance?
This year’s show is titled: “A Whole Lot of Nonsense.” The performance tells the story of putting on a show. It highlights the joy and humor of the audition process and shares both the performers and the director’s perspective. In addition to our “vintage” Follies cast, the show will feature young performers, too!

The show includes an array of familiar tunes, and a few newer songs from the musical “Six.” Patrons can expect several acts from “Monty Python.” Other highlights include classics such as “Under Pressure,” a big band and tap number called “A Few Bad Apples,” and songs from “Abba,” “Amélie,” “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” and more.

Fun fact: You will sometimes see Jason in the show, as a fill in!

What is your favorite aspect of the Follies weekend?
The Central Coast Follies is a three-day show in early October, with performances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Jason’s favorite moment of the whole weekend is just after the Saturday evening performance. He explains, “Saturday night is the second show of the run. Opening night nerves from Friday have worn away, and by Saturday we are well rested, everyone has fun and focuses on performing. Any initial kinks have been worked out. As the Director, I get to enjoy Saturday night, and so do the tech people.”

Is there anyone who deserves thanks and praise for their involvement?
An astounding yes from Jason, “there are so many people to thank and praise! Some of the people who sometimes get forgotten: Carol Walton and The Parkinson Alliance. The audience, the volunteers, and the husbands, wives, partners and families of our Follies members.”

Jason’s brother, Randall, is the Follies costume designer. He does exquisite work, applying appliques and feathers by hand and creating dozens of costumes for countless numbers. His skills are unmatched; he once made a vest for Jason that manually changed colors and another year he made puppets for a can-can dance number. Not to mention, he is brilliant at working through the complexities of dressing a senior cast.

To Jason’s parents, who for the first ten years helped him build the set and handle the tech for each year’s show.

A heartfelt thank you to Jason, whose selfless dedication and leadership of the Follies for nearly twenty years has made it everything that it is today. The Parkinson Alliance is honored and grateful to be associated with such committed and wonderful people, and we are thrilled to honor Jason Sumabat and the Central Coast Follies with a spotlight in one of our CHAMPS articles!

And lastly, thank you to the members of the Central Coast Follies. For adapting to virtual rehearsals and all the unpredictability that comes with the pandemic, and for bringing us a live performance again this year, break a leg!

Interview with Jason Sumabat, 8/2021