SRJC sets temporary stage for summer productions during $30 million Burbank Theatre renovations
Santa Rosa Junior College is setting the stage to resume the summer run of a nationally acclaimed college theater festival and for a fall opening of the modernized Burbank Theatre.
Workers and students are busy with preparations of two different theaters for upcoming productions — and in both settings final touches could come shortly before the curtain rises.
The two projects include a $30 million renovation underway at the Burbank, the college’s classic red brick auditorium that has been a campus mainstay for nearly 80 years. Construction workers will spend the coming months getting Burbank ready for a November opening night of the annual fall musical, this year “The Sound of Music.”
Meanwhile, with Burbank’s stage unavailable for a second summer, student crews are readying a temporary white “pavilion” — a hard-sided tent complete with glass doors and air conditioning — for the upcoming season of the Summer Repertory Theatre. That festival, which brings college actors here from around the country for seven weeks of performances, kicks off June 21 with the musical “Mama Mia!”
After the season ends, the $150,000 pavilion will be taken down to make way for more campus parking spaces. Its presence, though, means the summer program can resume its theater festival after canceling the 2018 season when plans for an alternate performance site fell through. It was the first such blackout in the 45-year-plus history of the summer theater season.
James Newman, artistic director for the summer theater program, said his students are getting the chance to tackle two new challenges. They are helping create the temporary venue on the college’s former tennis courts, where they will perform three musicals there in space designed for theater in the round. The layout will offer both actors and patrons a different experience from a proscenium theater like the Burbank, in which the audience observes from a unified angle the production taking place on the stage.
The pavilion’s 275 available seats will surround a hexagon stage. Every patron will sit within five rows of the actors.
“It’s so intimate,” Newman said. “I think audiences will love it.”
Both theater projects are linked to decadelong upgrades of the college’s two campuses and are made possible by $410 million worth of bonds approved by voters in 2014. The list of other projects includes everything from building student housing to revamping athletic facilities to constructing a new building for science, math and technology classes.
The temporary theater stage will remain for one summer, while the work in Burbank is meant to last for decades. For students and audiences, the changes to the landmark Burbank will be dramatic.
The college’s staff and students have produced first-rate shows there for years, but “they have been doing all this in a theater that was quite aged, using old technology,” college President Frank Chong said in a statement. The renovated spaces and the addition of new sound, lighting, video and other equipment will provide resources both faculty “and our students deserve,” he said.
Newman said Burbank was a “classic, beautiful old theater” but its modernization will be striking. For starters, the main theater’s capacity will shrink to 400 seats from 600.
But the stadium-style seating configuration will give audiences “a terrific view from every seat,” said Leslie McCauley, chairwoman and artistic director of the college’s theatre arts department.