To dream the impossible dream

Riverfront Theater founder talks about the hurdles he’s faced in living out his vision

Bob Barsanti, the founder of Riverfront Theater.

Bob Barsanti, the founder of Riverfront Theater.

Photo By David Robert

On the road to success, 40-year-old Bob Barsanti has encountered his fair share of potholes. For one, his fledgling Riverfront Theater is no longer along the Truckee River, having moved from a pricey space at 15 N. Virginia St. after less than a year.

Like most people, many of Barsanti’s woes stem from a lack of money. But unlike most people, his troubles take a back seat to the excitement of living his dream.

“The reason I started the Riverfront is I have loved the theater forever,” Barsanti says. “Always in the back of my mind was this saying, that if you can find a way to make what you love pay your bills, then you should go for that.”

Barsanti learned as much about the business as he could, taking classes and directing plays. Then, two years ago, Barsanti sold his Farmers Insurance business to his brother and took the plunge.

“My initial thought when we moved over to the original space was trying to create a mini Broadway alley in downtown Reno,” Barsanti says. “So I kind of jumped in headfirst. Maybe I didn’t think it all out as carefully as I should have. But if I had thought about it too much, I wouldn’t have done it.”

So Barsanti learned a few things the hard way. Besides high rent, the original space for the Riverfront shared a wall with Brüka Theatre that was much thinner than anticipated. The two companies couldn’t schedule plays for the same night without noise seeping through. After just half a year, it was time to look for a new home.

Then, a home found him.

“Luckily, when I was cleaning out that space, people from the Cal-Neva were walking by and said if you need a space, we have this space you can look at,” Barsanti recalls. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and it’s worked out to be an excellent partnership.”

Now, the Riverfront is settled into the Cal-Neva’s Nevadan Tower at 133 N. Virginia St. Besides a much cheaper rent, the Cal-Neva has agreed to underwrite the Riverfront’s upcoming production of Gypsy. Dinner/show packages and other cooperative efforts are in the works, and the Riverfront is the only community theater that can offer valet parking.

But has the move to a corporate building altered Barsanti’s vision?

Not really, he says.

“We’ve always done a little bit more mainstream shows, just because that’s what I like,” he says. “I figured, let the people who do the avant garde stuff do it and do it well, and we’ll fill in the gaps of some of the other shows that aren’t being done.”

Barsanti says the Riverfront’s schedule is geared toward seniors and families. And since the Cal-Neva would like the space put to good use, Barsanti has taken on a demanding season of 10 plays, including five musicals. While any one show is on stage, Barsanti and his core group of volunteers—or “guardian angels,” as he puts it—are already working on the next two or three productions.

“We’re surviving, we’re thriving, and in any business, your first couple of years are going to be your lean years, and then from there it goes up," Barsanti says. "It’s still fun, and as long as it’s still fun, it’s OK."