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‘New Vic’ Undergoes Change of Scene as Historic Theater Enters Next Stage of Renovation

As anticipation builds, Ensemble Theatre Company steps up effort to close out $16 million fundraising campaign

A large crane towered over what will soon be a fully functioning new stage at the Victoria Hall Theater last week as construction workers focused on the iron beams that will support the back of the renovated playhouse.

Noozhawk took a tour of the project Friday, and got a glimpse of what the theater promises to be.

Once construction is complete, Ensemble Theatre Company of Santa Barbara will move into the 33 W. Victoria St. location from its current home at the Alhecama Theatre, 914 Santa Barbara St., where it is in the middle of its 33rd season.

Ensemble Theatre Company must raise approximately $3 million in additional funding to complete construction at “the New Vic” by October, according to Jonathan Fox, the company’s executive director.

“We are working diligently toward that goal,” he said.

Ensemble has pulled in $9.3 million of its $16 million goal, which includes both construction and endowment funding. Fox said some of the organization’s major supporters have established a $500,000 1-for-2 matching fund, and for every new gift to the campaign, the fund will contribute an additional 50 percent of that amount.

Fox said he is still expecting the project to be completed by autumn, with the first production in early December.

Back at the New Vic, project supervisor James Tooley of Frank Schipper Construction said the renovated theater will have better sight lines with raised seating facing a 65-foot-wide, 30-foot deep stage. The hall will be able to seat about 300 people.

The New Vic isn’t the first theater overhaul Schipper Construction has taken on. The company has helped make improvements at the Lobero Theatre, the Marjorie Luke Theatre at Santa Barbara Junior High School and La Cumbre Junior High School’s theater, Tooley said.

“Most of those were nonexistent or in need of upgrades,” he said.

Of all of those projects, Tooley said, the New Vic has presented the most structural work. Because the 80-year-old building sits inside the boundaries of the El Pueblo Viejo Historical District in downtown Santa Barbara, the building’s facade cannot be changed significantly. As a result, while the back of the theater was demolished to build a new fly tower, the rest of the exterior has remained the same.

The back section of the building was completely torn down, and the entire basement was removed, Tooley said.

Some of the most impressive work to date isn’t visible from city parking Lot 5 behind the theater. During Noozhawk’s tour, Tooley showed off the extensive work that has been done under the stage. Concrete has been poured and that area will include men’s and women’s dressing rooms and showers, all meeting Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements; a green room; and other facilities.

The front of the stage will have a removable platform to allow for the option of an orchestra pit, adding more flexibility to the space, Tooley said.

Click here to learn more about the progress of the Victoria Hall Theater project or to donate to the New Vic’s capital campaign.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

The front facade of the 80-year-old Victoria Hall Theater at 33 W. Victoria St. will undergo only minor changes during its renovation. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
The front facade of the 80-year-old Victoria Hall Theater at 33 W. Victoria St. will undergo only minor changes during its renovation. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

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