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By Brian Robin

Two Friends Make an Impact

Seven times a year, Charlie Costello gets into her car and drives 270 miles from Bullhead City, AZ to Fountain Valley, and then to Costa Mesa. It’s Costello’s labor of love.

When she arrives at Jan Heistermann’s Fountain Valley home, the weekend officially begins. There’s dinner at Maggiano’s—where “some of the waiters are our new best friends”—Costello said, followed by theatre at SCR. Eventually, Costello also faces a 270-mile return trip home.

“There were two things that drew me to SCR,” said Costello, a retired flight attendant. “It was and still is reasonably priced and affordable. The other thing was it was only 10 minutes from my home. Once I got into the habit of going, I was hooked. There have been productions I have felt completely drawn into where I felt like I was participating in what was happening on the stage. …

“I made up my mind after I moved that I was still going to do this as long as it’s possible. It’s good for my soul.”

This is a story about friendship and how a shared love of theatre kept two women going through the toughest parts of their lives. It’s also a story about how anyone can make a difference by donating to SCR.

Heistermann and Costello met when both were flight attendants for United. They did grievance work for their union and flew together a lot. They lived a couple blocks from each other in Fountain Valley and their husbands were friends, too.

In 2003, Costello’s husband passed away. Looking for something to do, on a whim, she checked SCR’s schedule one day and without giving it a second thought, decided she was going to the theatre.

“I can’t remember what I saw or why I went. I just took myself to the theatre,” she said. “I happened to mention it to Jan one day that I saw this play and it was fun. She said, ‘This sounds interesting. The next time you go, let’s go together.’”

Heistermann didn’t need her arm twisted. She grew up adoring theatre in small-town Illinois, actively participating in her high school theatre classes, where she proudly talks about her big role as Rumpelstiltskin’s mother.

“I’ve always been interested in the theatre. I tried out for something in college and was told I had a lisp, so I wouldn’t be much of a success,” she laughed.

What began as two or three plays a year became four, then became five—then became two subscriptions in 2011. In 2010, Heistermann lost her husband. And her theatre outings turned into theatre escapes.

“It’s something that comes along with being a widow,” she said. “You find different avenues to keep yourselves occupied and busy. Theatre was one of the main functions that Charlie and I got involved in. It helped me get over joining a club you never want to join.”

There was another club for Heistermann to join, one infinitely more satisfying. She became an SCR donor. More importantly, she became one at a level perfect for her.

“I don’t have a lot of money, but I got a call from my financial advisor one day. He told me I need to think about contributing to non-profits for a tax credit,” she said. “The first one I thought of was South Coast Repertory.”

In the meantime, they relish seeing the variety of SCR productions, “From Shakespeare to August Wilson,” as Heistermann put it.

“I’m so excited about Lillian Hellman this season,” Costello said, referring to The Little Foxes.

“Where I live, I don’t have access to things like this. The closest big city is Vegas and that’s not my favorite place in the world,” she said. “It’s 270 miles to Jan’s house. For me, it’s way worth it to make the trip to see what I consider to be really quality theatre.”

For the record, Costello is the subscriber here. After all, she’s the one logging the miles.

“Charlie’s the subscriber. I’m the one who supports the philanthropic side,” Heistermann said.

“It’s a nice, symbiotic relationship we have going here. If it weren’t for people like Jan who donate, things wouldn’t be as good as they are at SCR,” Costello said.

You too can join Heistermann by donating to SCR’s annual fund. Donate before Aug. 31 and take advantage of the matching challenge from Richard and Lisa de Lorimier, who will match all donations up to $35,000. By doing so, you’ll help support the world-class theatre and award-winning conservatory SCR is known for. 

About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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