ENSEMBLE’S HOME: Ensemble Theatre Company, closing in on its $9.9-million goal to rebuild the old Victoria Hall Theater, expects to break ground next spring and begin staging plays in the fall of 2013.
The plan is to create a community performing arts venue other nonprofits can lease at very reasonable rates compared with rental costs at larger downtown theaters, Ensemble Campaign Co-Chair Derek Westen told a group touring the former church on Monday.
The city of Santa Barbara has kicked in $1 million in redevelopment funds. The rest is coming from donations. The plan is, Westen said, to gut the present inefficient auditorium and create a 299-seat theater with new seating and better audience sight lines, relocated restrooms, and an enlarged, redesigned stage.
A 55-foot-high “stage house” tower will be built to accommodate scenery. The present Victoria Street steps will be replaced by a broad, raised entry. Ensemble has a 30-year lease for the theater area, and Westen said he is confident that Ensemble will buy the place at some point. Ensemble is also raising money for a $4.5-million endowment. Ensemble now produces plays at the small Alhecama Theatre.
CACHUMA CRUISES: I found myself among a flock of ardent Audubon birders cruising Lake Cachuma on Saturday, binoculars at the ready. It was a clear, sunny day. Fisherfolk in motorboats had their lines in the water, and kayakers paddled among the grebes, but the much sought-after bald eagles were sleeping late, or something. It was delightful being out there anyway. Cost: $10 per car and $15 for the two-hour boat trip. As we returned, naturalist Liz Gaspar found a bald eagle — a stuffed one always kept in reserve in case someone was disappointed. Sue and I weren’t. We also enjoyed the Neal Taylor Nature Center, named for the late, great educator who created the center. (Badly needed at Cachuma: a restaurant.)
THE OTHER SIDE? Is there life after death? Since I’ve had no personal word from beyond the grave I tend to come down on the side of “This is it, baby.” But others disagree.
I’ve been partway up Panama’s 11,398-foot Barú volcano, and on a clear day, you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. But on December 23, 2007, the weather was rotten and rainy. A small private plane carrying Santa Barbara multimillionaire investor Michael Klein; his 13-year-old daughter, Talia; her friend; and the pilot crashed into the mountain. Only Talia’s Santa Barbara friend, Francesca Lewis, survived.
Now, Kimberly Klein, Michael’s former wife and the mother of her beloved Talia, has written a sometimes-angry book about how Talia’s death shattered her life. But since the crash, Kimberly has come to believe that her daughter has reached out to her from “the other side,” spoken to her. Until this happened, Kimberly writes in Hummingbirds Don’t Fly in the Rain (PMA Press), she did not believe in life after death. Now, she says, she does not believe in death. The book is subtitled A Mother’s Extraordinary Search for Her Daughter — in This Life and the Next.
‘FORNICATE NOW’: It happened back in those wild, free-speech days of the 1960s. A kid was hauled into Judge Joe Lodge’s court for driving with a “Fornicate Now” sticker on his car. The charge: pornography. The kid was defended by James (eventually Superior Court Judge) Slater. “If this is pornography, so is Winnie the Pooh,” Slater argued. And, as Slater reminded me the other day, Judge Lodge threw the case out of court.
FILM FEST COUP: Roger Durling and the Santa Barbara Film Festival scored a coup when they lined up not only director Martin Scorsese for the 2012 fest but also two new faces from France, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo. (French actors in an English-language silent film? Why not?) In the highly praised The Artist, silent-era superstar George Valentin (Dujardin), facing career-wrecking talkies of the 1920, crosses paths with rising starlet Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). They’ll receive the Cinema Vanguard award on February 4, 2012. Scorsese will be honored on January 30, 2012. The festival runs January 26 - February 5, 2012.
CAR DEALERS: Teamsters supporting the News-Press newsroom union passed out leaflets at Hope Avenue auto dealers last week, urging the dealers not to advertise in the N-P. The National Labor Relations Board has found the paper guilty of 25 labor-code violations, including illegally firing reporters. Owner Wendy McCaw’s appeal is pending before the Washington, D.C., federal district Court of Appeals.