STAR will present an online performance of “The Addams Family”  on Friday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m

By Kelly Barbazette

Kelly Barbazette

One of the things we have to be is resilient. It’s my favorite word,” Marilyn Abad-Cardinalli told me.

I can understand why she would choose that word. Responding and adapting to challenges and opportunities is something the local woman leader has done her entire life.

Marilyn taught theater arts and television locally for more than 40 years. Among her many accomplishments, she founded Gavilan College’s Summer Theater Arts Repertory program in 1985. It’s still going strong

She was born in 1947 in San Jose where her Filipino-born parents had earlier settled. Her father became a U.S. citizen and joined the army. While stationed abroad, he met Marilyn’s mother in the Philippines. The American War Brides Act in 1945 allowed servicemen stationed abroad to bring their wives to the U.S. The couple married and moved to San Jose near her father’s sister.

STAR Arts Education | The STAR Program - Theatre & Video Arts Camps“When the Japanese were interned, my aunt watched one of the farms that was evacuated. I was born on that farm,” Marilyn said in our chat. “When I drive down the street, I can still recognize all the trees that are left.”

Having grown up in San Jose myself, I recall the patchwork of orchards and farmland stretching as far as the eye can see. I can nearly imagine where Marilyn is talking about.

Marilyn attended Gavilan College and graduated from San Jose State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in history, a master’s degree in theater arts and related technologies. She earned a post-graduate certificate in video arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

She got a job teaching theater arts at Gavilan in 1971. She went on to teach theater arts, communications and TV broadcasting at the community college before retiring in 2012.

“I was able to meet with a whole variety of students because communications (class) was required,” she said. “I was able to see how important it is for kids to speak up in front of a group.”

Marilyn Abad-Cardinalli

During her college student years, she worked as a parks recreation leader at a children’s summer day camp. Later while teaching at Gavilan she broached the idea of starting a children’s two-week summer theater arts camp. The idea was the children would put on a play while learning about the arts, theater, and acting. Her students would serve as the camp staff. To the surprise of the campus, it filled 100 kids.

That’s how the Summer Theater Arts Repertory program (STAR) was born. The program’s first show was a musical of Robin Hood. Years later, Marilyn still sees parents of some of the first campers. They tell her how much their own children enjoyed STAR. Some of those original campers are still active in the arts.

“That’s the only reason why I’m still doing it,” she said. “And I’m retired. That’s the reason that you go back to do something that you love. It comes back to you.”

Marilyn has found other ways to give back to the community that she loves. Along with her husband, Joe, she has been on the board of El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista since 1971 where she created plays to educate farm workers about the labor unions. She also has been an executive producer for Gavilan’s TV channel from 1997 to 2007. In addition, she helped build and was the director of the technical program at California State University at Monterey. She and Joe, a set designer and the executive artistic director for Cal State University at Monterey Bay, met at the theater arts department at San Jose State University.

This past summer was a tough one for STAR because the COVID-19 crisis forced the three-week program to go online. But everyone persevered and presented an online production showcasing student-created videos.

“We’re moving forward,” Marilyn said. “We’re taking everything we learned and we’re continuing to develop programming for the future.”

In October, STAR hosted two online art workshops and a downtown Gilroy Halloween event. In addition, it will present an online performance of “The Addams Family,” a youth musical, on Friday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. Visit for ticket information and more details. Plans for an online winter play are in the works.

Marilyn encourages young women to never let a negative keep them from going forward.

“In my case, I didn’t know it until I got older when you say yes to things, there are a lot of no’s,” she said. “There are a lot of obstacles that come in front of you. It just helps to take deep breaths. It’s never been easy but nothing is. I’m grateful for the fact that the only thing my parents said to me is go to college…and find something that you love.”

Kelly Barbazette, a former journalist for Bay Area newspapers, is a freelance writer. She lives in Gilroy with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at [email protected]

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