Under Construction – Big Changes to Santa Barbara’s Theater Scene are on their way

Supporters of the Ensemble Theater Company project participate in a groundbreaking in June by pulling on a rope and bringing down a privacy wallin Victoria Community Hall. Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and Derek Westen, co-chairman of the project, are in the foreground. Steve Malone/News-Press file photo

Supporters of the Ensemble Theater Company project participate in a groundbreaking in June by pulling on a rope and bringing down a privacy wallin Victoria Community Hall. Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and Derek Westen, co-chairman of the project, are in the foreground.
Steve Malone/News-Press file photo

As the year closes, the biggest change in theater in Santa Barbara is physical, as the back of Victoria Hall remains open and exposed to the elements while major remodeling carries on. By fall, the Ensemble Theater Company will take the big leap from the tiny Alhecama Theatre on Santa Barbara Street and move into these bigger digs. Meanwhile, 2012 featured the unveiling of the remodeled Garvin Theater with its lavish production of “Avenue Q” followed by “August: Osage County,” while UCSB also premiered a refurbished Hatlen Theater.

The Ensemble had a good year with the hilarious “The 39 Steps,” the bleak “Creditors,” “Black Pearl Sings!” “Crime and Punishment” and “Bell, Book and Candle.” Carpinteria’s Plaza Theater proved to be a place for all sorts of events, from one-man shows to their lavish community productions of “Appointment with Death” and “A Christmas Carol.”

Genesis West continued their pop-up theater events, with an amazing “Endgame” in all sorts of places (including a mortuary). Elements Theater Collective tried the same thing with “Gruesome Playground Injuries.”

And the Center Stage continued to host productions from Out of the Box, including “John and Jen” and “Spring Awakening”; DIJO’s “New Jerusalem,” “Conversations in Tusculum,” “The English Bride,” and “The Vagina Monologues.”

Center Stage also hosted all sorts of one-time only events from “A Conversation with Edith Head,” “On a Bench,” Dramatic Women’s “3 Plays,” and Lit Moon’s stunning “Henry VI” cycle and “The Tempest.”

For this year-end column, we decided to ask some of our town’s theater and dance people for their feelings about the past year as it affected their art, and their wishes for 2013.

Christopher Pilafian, Artistic Director, Santa Barbara Dance Theater

How was 2012?

“I have seen growth in the Santa Barbara dance scene in 2012. We’ve seen the recent launch of at least one new dance company (Nebula) and one new performing arts festival (ArtBark) that engage at a professional level with emerging and influential artists. Danceworks Santa Barbara and Arts & Lectures both brought nationally and internationally influential artists new to our city, often with unfamiliar ideas and esthetics. And our community is responding.”

My wishes for 2013:

“I would like to see an increase in public enthusiasm for dance performance. I hope to see passionate, original and skillful creative output from local artists. I would be thrilled to see our fantastic philanthropic community engaging more deeply with this lively and varied art form.”

Risa Brainin, Director of Performance, UCSB

How was 2012?

“2012 has been a rich year for us at UCSB. We are proud of our continued dedication to new work demonstrated by our new play development program LAUNCH PAD’s premiere production of Lila Rose Kaplan’s “Entangled,” and our co-production with Proboscis Theatre Company of “Piezoelectric Love.” Through our production of Ama Ata Aidoo’s “Anowa,” directed by Irwin Appel, we reached out to the community in new and exciting ways, including with a scholarly conference (with the playwright in residence) led by Professor Christina McMahon.

“On the other end of the spectrum, we are always excited to present the great classics such as “Tartuffe” directed by Tom Whitaker, and Irwin Appel’s Naked Shakes production of “The Merchant of Venice.” We also relish the opportunity to work with the Proboscis Theatre Company’s “Live from the Piano Kitchen.” Many of our students and faculty are regularly (and joyfully) appearing on the show!”

My wishes for 2013:

“More collaborations! We view the department as a magnet for artists and scholars around the world. We love working with other artists inside and outside of the community, and continue to nourish those relationships. Our big wish as a department is to erase the “town/gown” divide, and expand our audiences to include more Santa Barbarians.”

Rod Lathim, producer and playwright

How was 2012?

“2012 was a great year for me as an artist. I was very honored to receive the 2012 Leadership in the Arts Award from the Arts Commission and SB County Supervisors a couple weeks ago. Having spent my adult life advocating for the arts in SB, it was a very gratifying acknowledgement. I accepted it on behalf of all the artists who live and work in SB and their enormous efforts in creating the work that gives Santa Barbara its unique cultural signature.

“In theatre, I was thrilled to produce the premiere of Nancy Nufer’s “Food Confessions” at the Lobero. I am passionate about employing local theatre artists and helping create original works in SB. This show will now move to the Rubicon as a part of their 2013 series in late January.

“I also wrote my first autobiographical play this year. “Unfinished Business” premiered at Center Stage and due to a very strong response I have continued adapting the script and am bringing the show back in May, thanks to a wonderful collaboration with the Lobero.”

My wishes for 2013:

“To see a thriving arts scene through the year. To see local artists creating work that stirs our emotions and helps us deal with the challenging times we are facing with hope, inspiration and creativity. To see the arts valued and artists paid for their valuable work.”

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