Candle time

STC, B Street and Foothill celebrate significant anniversaries

One of the less campier scenes from STC’s <i>Cinderella.</i>

One of the less campier scenes from STC’s Cinderella.

You say it’s your birthday?

Actually, all three of the region’s major theater companies (the ones that use Equity actors) are lighting candles and cutting cake. The Sacramento Theatre Company is in the midst of its 60th season. The Foothill Theatre Company will embark on its 25th season in February. And the B Street Theatre will be marking the 10th anniversary of its first production in January.

B Street producing director Buck Busfield has been so busy auditioning actors for the B Street’s January show that he actually hadn’t realized that his theater was about to reach a symbolically important birthday. The B Street’s first show, Mass Appeal, opened in January 1992; it starred Tim Busfield and Ed Claudio.

The new theater proved popular. “The first five years were rocky financially,” Buck admits. The bottom line began to stabilize when the B Street made a conscious decision in 1995 to do more audience-pleasing comedies.

As the B Street turns 10, the theater is hoping to open a second, 100-seat performance space in an adjacent former warehouse. The grid for overhead theatrical lights is in place, and the seats are the old wooden ones with vinyl pads that used to be in the B Street Theatre. The new space should be ready to open perhaps as early as late March or April. When it happens, the B Street will be in a position to extend popular shows or try darker, riskier plays.

Renovation is very much on the horizon at the Sacramento Theater Company. A long-planned upgrade to the old cinderblock structure is due to start this spring, and artistic director Peggy Shannon can’t wait. “Our building looks as though we’ve been here for 60 years,” she says. “It feels like a 60-year-old theater.” Shannon has also described the theater’s technical facilities as being “as old as dirt.”

Those old facilities have meant that Shannon and her designers have had to get pretty creative when it comes to making new shows look good. “I don’t want to do nothing but old-fashioned theater. Designers have a new way of putting a design motif on stage, and we haven’t been able to provide them with all the technology that they’ve needed. I’m looking forward to improved lighting, improved sound, new seats [and] more restrooms.”

STC is also coming off a bona-fide hit, Cinderella. Shannon is also looking forward to January’s On the Way to Love, written by and starring Patti Austin. After the show is developed at STC, it will go to one or two other regional theaters, and a New York run is being negotiated. “I want to do more shows like that for all of the obvious reasons,” Shannon says.

Meanwhile, Foothill Theatre Company of Nevada City has signed a three-year contract with the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival—extending the existing five-year relationship. This summer’s plays will be The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night, at Sand Harbor on the Nevada shore in July and August, then at the Nevada County Fairgrounds from August 30 to September 22.

Foothill is also developing several new scripts, both through in-house playwrights and through the New Voices of the Wild West series of staged readings, which features new scripts set in the west. Foothill is also bringing back founding artistic director Diane Fetterly to direct a show this season.

Nevada City is a much smaller market than Sacramento, but Foothill is able to sustain productions that are comparable to the other two. “It’s definitely the case that the arts seem to be in people’s blood here,” Sneed says. And it’s not a new thing. “In 1865, when the Nevada Theatre—where we stage our plays—was built, there were already five other theaters in Nevada City. I can’t really explain what it is. It’s a more educated community than most communities of this size. There are a lot of writers and musicians and other kinds of artists, and people whose careers allow them to work at home or retire early.”