The next stage
Old opera house transformed into the new Chico Theatre Company
On a recent, searing hot Chico afternoon, Brian Holderman was in the midst of some of the decidedly less-glamorous aspects of opening a community theater. In a tank-top spattered with forest-green paint, the artistic director of the Chico Theater Company, which opened its doors Oct. 1 with the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, was rolling on another coat in the new theater’s lobby.
With 16 days left until the show’s premiere, exposed wires hung from the ceiling. Saws buzzed in the back room as workers built the stage. And in the lobby, the wood floor was yet to be laid. “I’ll be getting to that this weekend,” Holderman said with a laugh. “And next weekend.”
A fifth-grade teacher, Holderman likely knows how to keep his cool in the midst of chaos. And on this day he appeared remarkably unruffled. He was joined by the theater’s managing director, Marc Edson, a radio account executive. Both had just gotten off work at their day jobs. And now the evening belonged—quite literally—to building their dream.
“We met two years ago and from that moment we decided that we wanted to open a theater together,” Edson said. “Finally this spring everything started clicking.” The first thing to click, besides their artistic chemistry, was finding a space they liked at a price they could afford (both have sunk their own funds into the venture). They found it almost immediately at 166 Eaton Road, the building that formerly housed the Chico City Light Opera house.
The two say they hope to promote local talent in a venue dedicated to musical theater. “It’s a piece of the theatrical puzzle that has been missing in Chico,” Edson said. In addition to Seven Brides, the theater’s first season, which runs until May 15, promises an ambitious lineup of six shows, including Mame, Gypsy and Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.
On premiere nights, which will always fall on Wednesdays, Holderman and Edson will be in tuxedos, and theatergoers will walk up a red carpet and through whirling spotlights to get to the show. The directors ask only one thing: please dress up. Think luscious MGM Hollywood—the glitz, the glamour, the dazzling chandeliers—and you’ll be too ashamed to come in shorts.
The theater will serve as an elegant gathering spot to showcase other dimensions of Chico’s artistic community. With each new show, the works of two local artists will be featured on the lobby walls. On weekends, jazz combos and musical groups will play pre-show gigs from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. “Even if they aren’t going to the show, people can come and have a glass of wine and taste some hors d’oeuvres,” Holderman said.
Last weekend the lobby’s exposed wires and cement floor were but a distant memory. Holderman, Edson and Edson’s wife, Andrea, had clearly seen to every last detail, transforming the space into something sleek and gleaming and immensely inviting.
In the 244-seat auditorium, the house was nearly full. The actors, many of them appearing to be in their 20s, exuded enthusiasm and energy, fully in costume and in character. Especially appealing was Linda Burchett, who played the female lead, Milly, and who had a lovely singing voice.
It was a valiant start to what Edson and Holderman say is only the beginning. The two have even bigger plans. In five years, they intend to open a Chico performing arts complex, complete with dance, acting and music studios, and a 1,400-seat auditorium. "You’ve got theater happening in Sacramento and San Francisco, and that’s who I want to compete with," Holderman said. "Why should we have to go there to see good shows? Chico has a lot of talent."