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SRJC cancels rest of theater season with newly redone Burbank Auditorium still unused

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After waiting for more than two years to put on a show in its venerable Burbank Auditorium, newly renovated at a cost of $30 million, the Santa Rosa Junior College theater department will have to wait a while longer.

The first production scheduled for the refurbished 400-seat space — “The Wedding Singer,” which was to open April 17 — has been cancelled due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns. It was to be the last show of the current season. Until last month, the college productions were held at alternative venues off campus.

The public did get a glimpse of the newly-redone 80-year-old structure during an opening celebration March 6, and a college production of the Irish play “The Cripple of Inishmaan” ran briefly in the building’s new 200-seat studio theater before worries about the coronavirus pandemic forced the show’s closure. The college’s spring fashion show and musical performances scheduled for the space also have been canceled.

“It is heartbreaking,” said Leslie McCauley, chairwoman and artistic director of the junior college’s theater and fashion department. “At least we had the grand opening and we did get to present four of the nine scheduled performances of ‘Cripple of Inishmaan.’”

The college offers two options to “Cripple of Inishmaan” and “The Wedding Singer” ticket holders: 1) get a refund check — however, the college said refunds will take at least 30 days to process because of coronavirus concerns or 2) donate the cost of the ticket to the theater arts program.

The college urges ticket holders to be patient, because box office staff hours are limited. Box Office Manager Sarah Martin is working remotely from home and can be reached by email at smartin3@santarosa.edu or by voicemail at 707-527-4307.

“Our hope is that (Summer Repertory Theatre) is going forward. SRT was canceled two years ago and then last summer they were in the tent,” McCauley said. Construction and delays for the auditorium forced the junior college to cancel the Summer Repertory Theatre season in 2018 and use a temporary outdoor pavilion in 2019.

James Newman, artistic director of Summer Repertory Theatre, said his plans now call for a truncated season, cut from five shows to three, starting in a bit later in the summer..

“We will be delaying the opening of the season until July and then only producing three musicals in a slightly shortened time frame,” Newman said. “We feel hopeful about being able to resume public gatherings in July. And doing three musicals in the renovated Burbank Auditorium feels like we can return to what the public loves about us and still accomplish our goals with our students.”

All instructors at the college are converting whatever classes they can to remote learning classes starting Monday, in a statewide move being guided by the chancellor of California’s community colleges.

“We are even strategizing how to have student actors act scenes over Zoom (a remote conferencing service),” McCauley said. “It’s actually possible, and for the actors in ‘The Wedding Singer,’ the choreographer will still be able to teach choreography over Zoom and we can even do vocal lessons. We are still offering the students learning opportunities. It is critical for students’ financial aid and transfers that they be able to complete classes this spring.”

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

The opening of the remade Burbank Auditorium had been a long time in coming. Crews broke ground on the project in January 2018, but planning began two years earlier. The whole process really began in 2014, when voters approved $410 million in bonds to finance not only the Burbank building renovation but a long list of other projects, including revamped athletic facilities and construction of a new science, math and technology center.

And the road to the Burbank Auditorium’s opening night hadn’t been easy, either. The original target date for completion of construction, May 2019, was postponed when it was discovered that underground power lines and cables and storm drains had to be moved. Last August, completion of the project was delayed again to allow additional time to make, deliver and install the ropes, pulleys and counterweights used to raise and lower curtains and support lighting equipment.

“We would have loved to stream ‘Cripple’ or ‘Wedding Singer’ but we did not have videos of either to do so,” McCauley said. “There are rights limitations on recording but many rights holders are offering theatres the streaming option, which is all new. The problem there is that we can’t have the students on campus or in close proximity to get a video of either show, and ‘Wedding Singer’ was obviously not ready yet anyway. The set for ‘Cripple’ is still sitting in the studio theater. It looks like it is waiting patiently for its next performance.”

For updates: theatrearts.santarosa.edu or http: summerrep.com

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com.

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