After a three-year search, the Lucky Penny theater company has found a new home in a Napa industrial area that is suitable for drama classes, school performances, community meetings and, of course, musicals and community theater.
The Community Art Center is a one-story space that will accommodate a snack bar and tasting room, meets all building and fire code specifications and is obtaining all necessary permits to open in November, said Barry Martin, who shares the title of co-executive director with Taylor Bartolucci.
Lucky Penny was formed by Martin and Bartolucci in 2009.
“We wanted to produce theater of our own creation, choosing the scripts ourselves,” said Martin. “No one was doing musicals outside of the schools at the time.” The company became a 501c3 nonprofit in 2011.
Forced to move from venue to venue, Lucky Penny has found it difficult to establish a complete, sustainable business model, Martin said.
“We have produced in the Napa Valley Wine Train Depot, the Opera House and at Napa Valley Playhouse,” he said. “It doesn’t work long term because you are limited to what you can do off site and bring in last minute. You can’t create technical components the way you want them, the rental of venues can be very costly, and you have no place to rehearse or store materials.”
The new location at 1758 Industrial Way poses no scheduling conflicts and has enough space for dressing areas, rehearsal space, lighting and 99 seats. It’s also more affordable.
“We also want to have an educational aspect to our company so there can be learning for youth and adults in theater and other arts,” said Martin.
The theater company is managed by an 11-member board, including Martin, who serves as the current president, and Bartolucci, last year’s president.
The cost to produce “Funny Girl” last year was about $55,000, Barry said, with $30,000 coming from fundraising and $25,000 from ticket sales. With the new theater, producers will save $15,000 to $20,000 in venue rental costs, he said.
Lucky Penny needs $225,000 to finance the new venue, including $150,000 for site improvements plus a $75,000 operating reserve. So far, Martin said, $100,000 has been raised in private donations.
Theater lovers are taking advantage of the opportunity to improve Napa’s cultural atmosphere, he said.
“There’s something that live theater can do that other kinds of entertainment can’t,” said Martin. “Why do people still go to movies when you can see all the movies in your home? It’s because you can be in a room together with others and share the same experience. It’s why theater has been around for tens of thousands of years.
“Theater serves a deeply seated need in people to share experiences of what it means to be human. We search out plays that have a great story and relevance to relationships, understanding human nature and exploring thoughts and emotions.”
Martin came to Napa in 1986 to work for the local radio station, then became the city’s public information officer in 2001. Over the past five years he has been working to enhance the theater culture in the Napa Valley.
“There is a very vibrant theater culture in Sonoma County, but Napa has never had more than two theater companies at the same time,” Martin lamented.