Cinnabar Theater announces move to Petaluma Outlets

The new 200-seat Cinnabar Theater facility is expected to open in 2025.|

When Cinnabar Theater leaders announced last spring that the award-wining theater company would be leaving the converted schoolhouse it has occupied since 1972, the news kicked off a flurry of conjecture about where Cinnabar would end up.

Last week, following what Cinnabar Executive Director Diane Dragone described as “a two-year, exhaustive search,” the organization has announced it will move to the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets, with an anticipated opening in fall 2025.

At the outlet mall, a large, vacant retail space that previously housed the Tuesday Morning store will be transformed into a 200-seat auditorium complex.

“We are entering into a long-term lease with Simon Properties to convert an 8,250-square-foot former retail space into our new home,” Cinnabar leaders said in a news release Wednesday.

“This location will seat twice as many guests as our present facility,” according to the release. “The (Petaluma Village Premium Outlets) Mall already provides ample, well-lit, secure parking, accessible restrooms and the electrical capacity to power more modern state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment.”

‘A perfect opportunity’

The date for Cinnabar’s departure from its hillside home was set two years ago, when Jan Klebe, the property’s owner and a Cinnabar co-founder, told the Cinnabar board she would not renew their lease.

Disagreements still linger about the vision and purpose of the company Klebe started with her late husband, Marvin Klebe. But Dragone said a major expansion of the organization is long overdue, and that the move to the outlet mall is a positive one for the community and for Cinnabar’s future.

“Simon Properties, the owners of the mall, have been extremely supportive and enthusiastic about this new venture,” Dragone said. The new Cinnabar complex has the potential to become a flagship destination at the Petaluma Boulevard shopping center, she said. The mall has seen a number of retail vacancies over the last several years.

“This is a perfect opportunity to turn this mall into a more community-minded hub for arts, entertainment and dining and beverages,” she said. “We are hoping that restaurants, wineries and craft breweries make (the mall) their home. We will be the anchor location and hopefully attract others to follow us.”

The decision to make Cinnabar’s new home at the Outlets is not entirely surprising. Two years ago, during the height of the pandemic, Cinnabar began renting a 6,500-square-foot location in the mall. A rehearsal and classroom space was opened to accommodate its youth programs. That move, according to Dragone, put a spotlight on the company’s educational programs and resulted in an increase in youth performers auditioning for shows and enrolling in Cinnabar classes.

“Consequently,” Dragone said, “the number of programs offered grew by 50%, and the youth attendance by 75%.”

According to Dragone, the new facility will feature “a modern and spacious setting that aligns with our vision for an excellent theatrical experience.”

Additional features will include a state-of-the-art lighting and sound system, increased parking capacity and potential for additional growth.

Big price tag

A renovation of this kind will be costly, coming with an estimated price tag of $2.5 million, according to Dragone.

The company plans to launch a major capital fundraising campaign at its annual Broadway Bash gala benefit party, scheduled for March 2 at the Doubletree Wine Country Hotel in Rohnert Park.

“Once the campaign is underway, donations may be made in the form of pledges, payable over three years,” Dragone said. “Naming and dedication opportunities will be available throughout the project.”

Should the targeted date of September 2025 hold firm — Cinnabar’s lease with Klebe ends Aug. 31, 2024 — that leaves a year during which Cinnabar will have no home to present its productions.

But according to Dragone, Cinnabar leaders have devised a plan to allow the company to continue to produce shows during that “build year.

“In season ’24 to ’25, Cinnabar will be ‘on the road,’” she said. “The professional shows will be performed at the Warren Theater at Sonoma State University. The Young Repertory shows will be performed at the Santa Rosa Junior College Petaluma campus, in the Carole L. Ellis Auditorium.”

The Warren Theater, on the Rohnert Park campus of SSU, seats 200. The Ellis Auditorium seats 256.

‘On the road’

Acknowledging that a renovation of this kind could take longer than anticipated, Dragone remains hopeful Cinnabar will begin its 2025-26 season at its new home at the outlet mall.

“But, if not, we will resort to Plan B, a few more months ‘on the road,’” she said.

Cinnabar’s final shows in its current location will be Eliana Pipes’ “Dream Hou$e” (Feb. 9-25), Donald Marglies’ “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment” (April 12-28) and Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” (June 21-July 5).

Jason Robert Brown’s two-person musical “The Last Five Years” opens Friday and runs for three weeks. The 2024-25 season has not yet been announced.

According to Cinnabar Artistic Director Nathan Cummings, theatergoers can expect essentially the same kind of programming at the outlet mall location that they’ve become accustomed to in recent years, except with larger audiences and enhanced production values.

“The one thing people tell us when they hear we are moving is, ‘You’re not going to lose the intimacy of your productions, are you?” Cummings said.

“I can assure everyone that in the types of shows we program, the types of projects we tackle with our youth and the spirit and feel of what we will be presenting in this exciting new space, we intend to keep giving our audiences the same unique kind of intimacy between the performers and the audience,” Cummings said. “That is what we are known for, and I promise you it’s something we will not lose, even in a larger space.”

As for the “on the road” season, Cummings said an announcement of the plays and musicals planned for the temporary spaces at SSU and SRJC will be coming in the next month or so. His hope is that Petaluma audiences will follow along from show to show, while Cinnabar takes the opportunity to introduce their work to new audiences, too.

“Our goal in this move is growth,” Dragone said. “Our theater organization has been growing by leaps and bounds, and we have big plans for the future.”

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