Nearly 10 years after the Ensemble Theatre Company of Santa Barbara began planning and designing a new permanent venue, ground was finally broken at 33 W. Victoria St. on Thursday, officially making the 80-year old Victoria Hall Theater Ensemble’s new home.
With a 12- to 14-month building timeline, Ensemble plans to have a grand opening of its modern, intimate 300-seat theater at the New Vic in the fall of 2013.
“We are going to be able to expand the number of productions we do, and still rent out the theater to other nonprofit performing arts organizations almost half the nights of the year at affordable rates,” said Derek Westen, co-chairman of Ensemble Theatre at the New Vic Leadership project. “We think it will have a great transforming effect, and we’ll just use the hell out of it.”
During the groundbreaking ceremony, Westen announced that Ensemble’s New Vic campaign had just finished raising more than $8.5 million in donations from various individuals, foundations and organizations, placing the group at 81 percent of its final fundraising goal of $10.5 million.
The donations will go primarily toward renovation and planning costs, as well as operations and program support for the New Vic campaign. In addition, Ensemble Theatre received $4.45 million in endowment and reserves, which will be used for affordable admission prices, youth outreach and educational programs, and financial stability.
Schneider publicly congratulated the Ensemble Theatre Company and its New Vic campaign for making the building project a reality, especially after overcoming certain city planning hurdles, and reassured the group that its check for $1 million from the Redevelopment Agency of Santa Barbara is secure.
Schneider also commended the group for receiving unanimous approval from the Historic Landmarks Committee of Santa Barbara for construction on the entry and stage-house portions of the building, while preserving the historically important exterior architecture.
Christine Holland, president of Ensemble Theatre’s board of directors, thanked all of the supporters, enthusiasts, and visionaries involved in the New Vic project, then introduced and thanked Jonathan Fox, executive artistic director for Ensemble Theatre, for his involvement in the design phase of the new venue.
Fox acknowledged all of the great past productions the theater company has provided for the Santa Barbara community within its current venue, the Alhecama Theatre, located on 914 Santa Barbara St. Yet, he is looking forward to the new production possibilities offered by the New Vic venue.
“I am proud of the magical transformations that have taken place at our current home, but it is time for Ensemble to grow,” Fox stated. “The sophistication and professionalism of the new theater will match the sophistication and professionalism of the work on stage provided by Ensemble.”
During the design phase, Fox worked closely with PMSM Architects, a Santa Barbara firm, to create a more functional space while leaving most of the exterior intact, including the stained-glass windows and current stage dimensions.
“The fact that it was a working theater really helped,” said Fox. “It saved a lot of development work rather than working from scratch, but a lot of it does need to be freshened up.”
With plans to create a new stage house, widen the wings, and provide state-of-the-art lighting and sound technology, Ensemble will be able to put on more musicals and plays with dance performances, which Fox believes will enhance the type of work and artists Ensemble brings to Santa Barbara.
“From an audience perspective, there will be a huge increase in comfort level, great sight lines with the sloping of seating, and terrific acoustics,” added Fox. “The building itself will feel professional, comfortable, and fun to be in, a great match to the work being done inside.”
Ensemble Theatre Company’s 33rd season will run from Oct. 4 through June 23, 2013, and it will be its final season at the Alhecama Theatre.