Ensemble Moving to Victoria Hall

Name that Theater for $2.5 Million

MULTI $$ REDO: The 31-year-old Ensemble Theatre Company plans to begin a major renovation of its future home at the Victoria Hall Theater early next year.

After about a year of interior reconstruction at what it has dubbed The New Vic on West Victoria Street, Ensemble will be leaving its longtime, cozy but inadequate Alhecama Theatre at 914 Santa Barbara Street.

“If all went extremely smoothly, we could begin work in the first part of 2011,” Derek Westen, Ensemble boardmember and campaign chair, told me. They would be able to stage at least one or two plays at the Vic in 2012 after beginning that season at Alhecama.

Barney Brantingham

The New Vic will have nearly 300 seats in stadium style, compared with Alhecama’s 141, and, as a side benefit, will allow scheduling for community music, dance, and other performance events and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

In an interview this week, Westen declined to provide a cost estimate of the multimillion-dollar project, pending fine-tuning, but said that many community leaders and philanthropists are already involved in the capital and endowment campaign, including Sara Miller McCune, Michael and Anne Towbes, Barry and Jean Schuyler, and honorary campaign chair Léni Fé Bland. There’s already been “great progress,” Westen said, and the City of Santa Barbara has committed $1 million in redevelopment funds. Naming rights for the theater are up for grabs. Price: $2.5 million.

With the way cleared after a delay due to litigation, Ensemble now has a 30-year lease. The Santa Barbara architectural firm PMSM, which did the Granada Theatre’s interior and the Music Academy of the West’s outstanding Hahn Hall, has been retained, while Frank Schipper Construction has been hired for pre-construction services. The building, a former church, is owned by three nonprofits, CALM, RSVP, and Unity Shoppe. The latter will be able to hold its annual Unity Telethon without being charged for use of the theater, Westen said.

The Vic’s current interior will be gutted, Westen said. The new stadium seating will integrate the present balcony. The stage will be deeper, and a small orchestra pit will be provided. Bathrooms will be relocated, and the lobby will be enlarged to about the size of Hahn Hall’s. A state-of-the-art projection booth will be built for films. Because these changes are planned for the interior only, Planning Commission and City Council approval are not required, according to Westen.

Jonathan Fox, executive artistic director, has been given a long-term contract. Ensemble will build sets and rehearse offsite, meaning that it can do up to six plays a season instead of its current five and still make the theater available for other performance groups, Westen said.

DREAM FOR ROB, NIGHTMARE FOR NP: According to Architectural Digest, actor Rob Lowe has finished his dream house in Montecito, the one that helped wreck a fine Santa Barbara newspaper. To put it briefly, after a very standard Santa Barbara News-Press Planning Commission story about the proposed house in 2006, Lowe or his people complained to NP management that the article mentioned Lowe’s address. Owner Wendy McCaw then went on a rampage in the newsroom, a key factor in setting off the paper’s meltdown.

STEVE MARTIN & BANJO: It takes quite a draw to sell out the Granada, but Steve Martin managed it, performing with the young bluegrass band the Steep Canyon Rangers. Martin, no slouch on the banjo, used to or still does own a home in the foothills, a huge, bunker-like cement place that could double as a bomb shelter. Martin, just beginning his banjo tour, comes at a pretty price, but thanks to UCSB’s Arts & Lectures, it was a standing-room-only night. A&L is also expecting a sellout when it and Community Arts Music Association bring the famed Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to the Granada on March 1, 2011.

SELLOUT? The one-two musical punch of the week comes in the form of Camerata Pacifica chamber music group at Hahn Hall (including Brahms’s Sonata for Piano and Cello) Friday, October 15, at 7:30 p.m., followed by the Santa Barbara Symphony performing Beethoven’s great Ninth Symphony (“Ode to Joy”) Saturday, October 16, at 8 p.m. The 150-member Santa Barbara Choral Society, the Quire of Voyces, and the Westmont College Choir will fill the Granada stage along with the symphony musicians. Should be quite a night. If you can’t score a seat, they’ll do it all over again Sunday at 3 p.m.

ENSEMBLE OF HOUSEWIVES: It’s not often that the original cast of a New York play comes to Santa Barbara. In Alan Brody’s Housewives of Mannheim, on the Ensemble Theatre stage through October 31, four women clash and seek understanding in a Brooklyn brownstone in 1944. May (Pheonix Vaughn), her husband off to war, begins as innocent and naïve. But the war comes closer when Sophie (Natalie Mosco) arrives from Europe, bitter and also shocked to discover how little the self-absorbed women she meets, like May, understand of the horrors Hitler is wreaking. Then there’s tough-talking apartment dweller Billie (Corey Tazmania) and her secret. Without disclosing too much, I can say that Sophie teaches one and all crucial lessons in the realities of life, lessons that an evolving May painfully learns as she grows.


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