Performing arts shake-up

Three Stages opens, Mondavi thrives. What happens downtown?

How are you going to keep them downtown after they’ve seen Three Stages?

How are you going to keep them downtown after they’ve seen Three Stages?

The opening of A Chorus Line this week at the Three Stages at Folsom Lake College performing-arts complex marks the debut of a venue that will fundamentally alter the landscape for the region’s larger performing-arts groups. It’s another in a decade and a half of major changes.

In 1995, a full-time orchestra, the Sacramento Symphony, the Sacramento Ballet and the Sacramento Opera were all performing at the 2,400-seat Sacramento Community Center Theater along with the Broadway Sacramento series of touring musicals. Other regular tenants at SCCT included the Sacramento Community Concerts Series and several top-drawer artists hosted by the UC Davis Presents series. The venue was hopping. But in 1996, the Sacramento Symphony dissolved. The Sacramento Philharmonic moved into the void created by Sac Symphony’s collapse; while it’s professional, it is also decidedly part-time, typically staging five subscription concerts a year at SCCT.

That was a tremble in the schedule at SCCT. The earthquake was the 2002 opening of the 1,800-seat Mondavi Center at UC Davis. A much better acoustic environment than the aging SCCT, Mondavi now hosts superstar performers like Itzhak Perlman. He used to play at SCCT (sponsored by UC Davis Presents), but now he no longer appears downtown. The entire center of gravity for classical music in the area shifted abruptly west to Davis.

Two years ago, SCCT lost another regular tenant: the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra, citing deficient acoustics and high rental expenses, shifted their concerts to the Mondavi Center and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. When the Sacramento Opera suspended the remainder of its season in December, among the concerns they cited was the high cost of performing at SCCT.

As Three Stages opens, the companion question is: How profound a hit will SCCT take? The Philharmonic will do two spring concerts at Three Stages, and the Sacramento Ballet has planned three programs for its 850-seat main hall, along with a performance at the Mondavi. That’s a total of six classical-arts performances by local groups, traditionally held at SCCT, moved to the newer venues—make that 11 performances if you include the five concerts this season by the Choral Society.

Nearly 40, SCCT is scheduled to begin much-needed renovations this summer—more restrooms, lobby improvements, new seats, added aisles, backstage upgrades—in a project that will take three summers to complete. But when the makeover is finished, who will be performing at SCCT?

We can expect touring musicals—the Broadway Sacramento series has become SCCT’s anchor tenant—and politically, the onus is on the Sacramento Philharmonic and the Sacramento Ballet to perform some of their season at SCCT. But both the Sac Philharmonic and the Ballet are talking enthusiastically about “growing new audiences” in Folsom. For most groups, it’s better to fill an 850-seat hall (and stay in the black) than to leave the bigger hall downtown half-empty (and run in the red).

For a group like the Sacramento Opera, it’s a matter of survival. Opera lovers have more options than in the past. The world’s major companies are drawing crowds at high-def cinema screenings, which forces regional companies like Sacramento Opera to rethink their artistic/business model.

A good guess for the new regional performing-arts scene would have the big stars at the Mondavi to the west; a concentration of local performing-arts groups and smaller-draw artists at Three Stages in the east … and Broadway Sacramento, Sac Ballet’s annual performances of The Nutcracker, some Philharmonic concerts and a few other events at SCCT. We’ll probably be looking at leftovers downtown in comparison with what’s been there in the past.