Fond Memories: A B Street Dog Cries for Sylvia

As we get ready for the move of a lifetime, we thought it’d be nice to recollect the good, and often strange times at 2711 B Street. For the next few months, staff members, company actors, and others share their funny, embarrassing, and memorable times at B Street Theatre. Company member, Kurt Johnson, remembers a certain dog during the first run of Sylvia at B Street Theatre.

B Street 2

For those patrons who don’t remember the play Sylvia, it’s about a man who’s going through a mid-life crisis, and gets a dog to deal with it. The dog is actually played by an actress. And it’s really funny, and it causes all kinds of trouble for him and his marriage. Eventually, everything gets worked out, and at the end there’s a nice long monologue with the husband and wife talking about how wonderful the dog was. During this monologue, they drop down a picture of a real Golden Retriever and explain that this is the real Sylvia. They then talked about how great their life was with Sylvia the dog, and eventually they note, “And the day came when we had to put the dog to rest.”

On one particular night, there was a patron with a canine assistant, and just as Tom Redding said, “But of course the day eventually came when we had to put Sylvia to rest,” the dog, who had been quiet the entire performance,  let out the saddest whine. The audience lost it; probably the biggest laugh we had got during the run. And Tom Redding, very kindly, wandered over to the dog, and said, “Oh, it’s alright darling.”

Probably one of the sweetest moments at B Street.

You can see Kurt Johnson now as George in B Street’s critically acclaimed production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, running until October 29th.

 

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Meet the ambassadors of B Street’s Family Series

Family Ambassador 1

Since 2002, our Family Series has performed for 242,500 children in the Sacramento area. At the Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts, we’ll have the capacity to introduce even more students to the power of live theatre. For the next few weeks, our blog will introduce several teachers who have generously volunteered their time to help us promote the 2018 season, and also to convey why they have continuously brought their students to the B Street Theatre’s Family Series.

FAMILY AMBASSADOR: GEORGE YOUNGFamily Ambassador 3

When did you first hear about the B Street Theatre?

GEORGE: We were delightfully exposed to the artistry of the B Street Theatre though the Fantasy Theater school program. I also became connected when I taught Jack Gallagher’s youngest son, the subject of one of his most personal performances.

What was the first show you saw at the B Street’s Family Series?

Extraordinary Things: Through the Eyes of Anne Frank. I brought my class that year as we were devoting ourselves to understanding the consequences of prejudice, indifference, and injustice in society. That show could not have been more timely.

What has been your favorite show on the Family Series stage?

Tough call, but I think one of my favorite (so far) has been Dia de los Cuentos. The Latino students (and parents) in my class were so heartened to see a story told from “their” point of view.

How did you first become a teacher?

I’ve wanted to be a teacher and work with young people ever since childhood. And now with retirement, I’m finding other ways to connect and contribute.

Why do you think it is important to bring children to the theatre?

It’s important to get the learner beyond the book. And live theater can bring those stories and themes to vivid, unforgettable life. One can view a film, but feeling the energy in the air of a live performance, as well as the undeniable connection is something every child needs to experience.

What separates B Street from other children’s entertainment?

Children’s entertainment usually is just that – entertainment. But the B Street is beyond that. Their actors and writers are skilled in making every moment memorable and connecting with every child in the audience. The major difference is that the B Street doesn’t take culture and education as an afterthought. It’s obvious how much thought and effort goes into each production.

Why have you chosen to be an ambassador?

I hope I was chosen because of my love of children, theater, and education. I was a Drama minor (not a bad prerequisite to be a classroom teacher) and know how make each day in class exciting and something to anticipate. For me, the B Street is a doorway that must be opened to more children in the Sacramento area, if we are to truly make the Arts a vital part of the wonder that education should be.

FAMILY AMBASSADOR: GLORIA CHESBROB Street 2

When did you first hear bout B Street Theatre?

GLORIA: I first came into contact with B Street 11 years ago, when I started teaching GATE at Rocklin Elementary. I was looking for more opportunities for my 6th graders to see art/music/drama.

What was the first play you saw on the Family Series stage?

I don’t remember the first play that I brought students to. I do remember the wonderful showings of Around the World in 80 Days in 2003, Hounds of the Baskervilles in 2014, and Frankenstein in 2016. Last year we watched a play about immigration and the Chinese. The students all remember that one.

What has been your favorite show on the Family Series Stage?

I have to say my favorite show was Hound of the Baskervilles. The set was stunning, it was a wonderful mystery.

How long have you been teaching?

I have been a teacher for 26 years.

Why should children come see live theatre?

I start my year by doing a learning styles test with the students. This way I get to know when way they learn the best. Many of my students are kinesthetic, oral, visual. I need to meet all student’s needs by feeding their senses. Often we forget art. You provide one aspect of their education, a very rich aspect.

What separates B Street from other children’s entertainment?

What I love about B Street is that it is geared to young people. We have seen events at Mondavi and other venues, but B Street is FOR OUR CHILDREN. I love the Fantasy Theater program, the way the kids get to interact with the actors. We have a reunion of our 6th graders who are graduating high school every year. They always talk about writing those plays, how fun it was writing them, and seeing them performed in front of the school.

Why have you chosen to become a Family Series Ambassador?

I wouldn’t normally do this, my life is way too busy. Your program, however, is worthy of my time. You have been a steady part of my goal of teaching the whole child for 26 years. Thank you!

FAMILY AMBASSADOR: TINA HUGHES-CORBENFamily Ambassador 5.jpg

When did you first hear about B Street Theatre?

TINA: I was born and raised in Sacramento and I have been a patron of B Street for many years! I believe my first trip to the theater was after winning a raffle prize of tickets. We received emails from the educational department about your matinee programs and have been bringing students as often as we can (when we can afford to and a show fits our curriculum). We have also brought the assembly program to our school on several occasions through the Any Given Child grants.

What was the first show you saw at the B Street Theatre’s “Family Series”?

Wow… I have been going to theater so many years now, I don’t recall my first one.

What has been your favorite show on the Family Series Stage?

Again I love theater so much that they are all enjoyable! One that particularly stands out is the adaptation of The Giver produced a few years ago. Our school reads the book each year and this was a wonderful connection to their studies.

How long have you been a teacher?

I began teaching in 1997 so this my 20th year.

Why is it important for children to come to live theatre?

Children are the future actors, directors, set designers as well as the future patrons of theater. To keep the arts alive, we must continue to expose our children to them. Watching live performances feeds my soul and I know that some of my students have that love as well and we want to nurture that with increased exposure.

What separates B Street Theatre from other children’s entertainment?

B Street Family Series productions are geared towards our age level students and engage them. The source material is often recognizable and well loved by them as well. The education department does an exceptional job of sending teachers the materials and background information to make the play meaningful to the students. The selection of plays match our curriculum which makes it easier for teachers to justify the cost of bringing their class. Our dependent charter school’s mission includes teaching the whole child and we have many aspiring actors. The Q and A session with the actors following the show are incredibly valuable to our program.

Why have you chosen to be an Ambassador for B Street Theatre’s Family Series?

I have chosen to be an ambassador because I see the delight children have when I take them to live theater. B Street productions are top notch quality and I want the children to be exposed to the dedication and professionalism of a professional company as early and as often as possible to help them become theater lovers and patrons themselves.

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The B Street Family Series opens next year with Gandhi!, a musical which connects a present day American-Indian boy with Mahatma Gandhi. Tickets are available for our entire 2018 season on bstreettheatre.org

An interview with the youngest Mainstage subscriber

Adara-Blake

As surprising as it may be, B Street Theatre has subscribers in the 20something demographic. Meet Adara Blake, a 26-year-old (we asked her the ultimate millennial question to verify this) employee at UC Davis Medical Hospital, who loves Sacramento and B Street Theatre. As of this month Adara has been a subscriber for a full year.

How old are you?
ADARA: 26

And you’re a subscriber?

…yeah…

No, seriously how old are you?

26! Harry Potter is the cultural phenomenon of my childhood!

How old were you when you were read Harry Potter?

I was in the third grade when I read the first book, the last book was published when I was in high school, and the last movie came out when I was in college. The books and movies hold a lot of sentimental value for me. Last year I took a trip to London and by far the highlight was a visit to the studio where the films were shot. Seeing all of the sets, costumes, and props in person was incredibly nostalgic.

I was pleased to learn we have millennial subscribers.

Audience demographics are changing, but young people and people of color have not historically had access to the theatre. While there are so many organizations, like B Street, who work hard to make theatre more inclusive (both financially and through the types of stories on stage), it unfortunately just doesn’t occur to many people my age to go to the theatre. Millennials are certainly supporting live performance, but I think it’s up to young people who already work in or attend the theatre to bring our friends in and show them firsthand that a play can be just as riveting a night out as a musician’s set or stand up.

So why is Sacramento fun for young adults like yourself?

I’ve lived in bigger and smaller cities, and Sacramento hits the sweet spot in between. Living in Midtown means I’m just a few blocks away from my favorite restaurants and bars, but it doesn’t feel chaotic. I love being just a short drive from all of the awesome locations Northern California has to offer, like weekend trips to the Bay Area or Tahoe.

Why did you choose to subscribe at the B Street Theatre?

In the past I’ve primarily been a musical theatre patron, but B Street has exposed me to the world of contemporary plays. Being a subscriber not only allows me to continue enjoying shows on a regular basis, but allows me to be a part of the community of the theatre. As someone who works with young children, I’m also very invested in B Street’s mission to give children access to the arts.

What makes theatre more exciting (or just as exciting) as say Netflix or HBO?

Even when a particular show isn’t my favorite piece of work, I will never stop being fascinated by the fact that, in that moment, I got to experience the only fleeting iteration of that piece that will ever exist in the world. I am also a person who loves experiencing a performance with an audience, getting to hear the reactions and feel the energy of everyone else watching with you. Getting to interact with the artists who create the work is a huge advantage that theatre has over film and television.

What makes B Street Theatre fun?

For me, the incredible artists and staff of the theatre make it a special place.

What gets you most excited about the Sofia?

I am most excited that with more space, a greater number and more diverse group of community events will be able to take place. I am hoping that this works towards inviting a more diverse group of patrons into the theatre.

The Sofia: October Update

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A view of the Mainstage at the Sofia

By Lyndsay Burch – Artistic Producer and Move Manager

With the final production in our current space a month away, it’s time for an update on construction at the Sofia: how it’s grown and what one should expect to see in the upcoming months.

In March, this was just the shell of a building. If you passed by Capitol Avenue, you probably noticed the size and scope but you had to imagine everything else. Now, it looks like a theatre. Soon you’ll walk through the front lobby, where you’ll see the exposed wood ceilings, blasted with ground-up walnut to give it the finished look. You’ll see the steel store-front windows. Elements of the final look are starting to take shape.

The biggest addition over the past five weeks is the framing for the seating in both the Thrust and Proscenium theatres. During the initial Hard-Hat Tours, guests would enter the theatres and see these massive rooms, and a lot of people were nervous about losing the intimacy of B Street. But now, with the framing, you realize how close you are to the stage. The room shrinks. And instead of being in a massive room, the audience becomes a part of the play. And with the rake, the sight lines will be much better than they are in our current space. You’ll be able to see the stage perfectly, even if you’re sitting behind someone taller than you! Once the framing for the seats is installed, you’ll realize that this is going to be a great place to sit and watch highly intimate theatre.

The B Street Theatre has always had a great reputation, but the Sofia will draw crowds and personnel throughout the world. Recently, the National Children’s Theatre of China took a tour of the Sofia, and they were absolutely blown away. We’ve now begun discussing an international collaboration.

New-Theatre-Chinese-Theatre

Delegates from the Children’s Theatre of China were shocked by the enormity of this project. I think many people assumed that the new complex would simply be a bigger version of the current B Street. But this is a completely different operation. This is a performing arts center with two fully operational theatres, one smaller black box space, rehearsal spaces, a restaurant, a courtyard, classrooms, and offices. We’re creating a whole new business model for theatre and for performing arts in Sacramento.

In the next month or so, the outside facing of the theatre will be complete. It’s funny, many of people keep thinking we are going to have an orange building but not to worry! It’ll be a beautiful Corten Steel just like in the renderings. We also have exciting plans for the inside decoration. The Tree Foundation and PG&E have worked together to donate fragments of Beetle Kill Pine Trees and a smaller donation of Elm to the new complex. It is being milled and finished as we speak, and will be getting installed soon, decorating the front lobby and most importantly, the interiors of both theatre spaces. The Sofia will exemplify the City of Trees perfectly.

We’re 11 weeks away from occupancy and the decisions have become much smaller; however, the amount of decisions we’re making each day has increased significantly. Lighting and seats and curtains will be the very last things installed to complete these two, state-of-the-art theatres. It’ll be a roller coaster for us at the B Street from Thanksgiving until the opening of the Sofia, and we’ll make sure to keep you in the loop.

New-Theatre-Sean
Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill

Thank you for all your support, and remember, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? runs until October 29 and our final performance in the original theatre will be A Moving Day, opening on November 12.

Fond Memories: Jerry Montoya becomes the Narrator

kings fantasy with chairs

As we get ready for the move of a lifetime, we thought it’d be nice to recollect the good, and often strange times at 2711 B Street. For the next few months, staff members, company actors, and others share their funny, embarrassing, and memorable times at B Street Theatre.  In this edition, Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill recalls the time Artistic Producer Jerry Montoya became the narrator for Robin Hood.

On a Tuesday morning, Fiona Robberson came in for a 9:30 show of Robin Hood with a bad case of the flu. Jerry Montoya, executive producer of the theatre and our director, joined us for fight call to see if she was able to perform. Her effort was valiant but it looked as  if she was going to faint.  It was clear that we would have to tell the story of Robin Hood without our Maid Marian. With a full house of kids waiting outside the theatre, the show would have to go on.

Jerry approached the cast and crafted a game plan. One of the teachers a part of the field trip had eagerly volunteered to help when we needed her, and Jerry would be the ‘narrator’ of the show, to fill in any of the gaps in the story.

Jerry, standing in one of the aisles, began, “Once upon a time in Sherwood Forest…” and we were off, all of us unsure of how it would go. Anytime Maid Marian or the boy Much appeared in the story, the volunteer teacher ran onto the stage with the energy of a first graders and would be fed a line or two by one of the actors.

There was a plethora of impromptu cutting, hysterical one liners from Jerry, and a good amount of giggling shrugs from Stephanie Altholz. Most of it honestly is a blur. But the kids had a blast and by the end of the show, our volunteer teacher had the confidence of Bette Midler.

Darek Riley, Winstone Koone, and I were all conveying our relief in the dressing room afterwards, when Jerry arrived, a smile on his face, and said, “We should do that again!”

Thank god Fiona came back the next morning.

Fond Memories: When the Gun doesn’t go off

Dave-Poison-Boot

AS B Street Theatre get ready for the move of a lifetime, we recollect our time here at 2711 B Street. So for the next few months, we’ll have staff members, company actors and others share their funny, embarrassing, and memorable times here at the old B Street Theatre.

Artistic Producer, Dave Pierini, explains what an actor has to do when a prop gun does not go off. 

There’s all kind of famous theatre legends about guns that don’t go off when they’re supposed to, and how actors deal with it. The most famous one of course, was in a production of West Side Story where in the final moment, Chino comes to kill Tony by shooting him dead, and the gun didn’t go off. So Chino came over and kicked Tony, who instantly fell, and screamed out, “Oh! He kicked me with his poison boot.” And the actress playing Maria, keeping her cool, would yell, “Is there a poison boot for me, Chino? Where’s my poison boot?”

So while we were doing “An Evening of One Acts,” we were swapping stories backstage and that crazy incident popped up in our conversation.

In one of the pieces in that production, I played a CHP officer narrating a piece about a crazy playwright, all in the style of the TV show, Cops. At the end of the piece, I’m supposed to shoot the playwright, who immediately drops dead. And of course, the gun doesn’t go off. Thankfully, because I was narrating, I was able to change the story, and the only thing I could think of was the incident that happened in West Side Story. So I walked over to the actor who was the Playwright and told the audience, “Unfortunately, my service revolver misfired. So I went over and kicked him with my poison boot.”

The actor to his credit, did his blocking perfectly: immediately dropping to the ground and pretending to be dead. The spotlight hit him, and the audience was going crazy. So everything seemed fine.

But then I realized, that I referenced the gun at least five times before the end of the piece. So of course, every time I mentioned the gun, I had to change the line to something like, “I never thought I’d have to use my poison boot in the line of duty.”

And not only would the audience lose it, but I could see the actor, playing the dead playwright, shaking on the ground because he was laughing so hard.

An Interview with the cast of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Wolf Play 1
L to R: Kurt Johnson, Jason Kuykendall, Elisabeth Nunziato, and Dana Brooke. (Photo by Rudy Meyers Photography)

It’s rare that the B Street Theatre brings an American classic like Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf to our Mainstage. But, in doing so it needed to be special. So we placed four of our long-time company members in the cast. These four actors have had a long history with B Street,  having worked as interns,  back when it was called an apprenticeship, and performing in a plethora of our productions. In a way they’ve been groomed by B Street for this moment. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill interviewed the cast to learn how they first met.

How did you all first meet?

ELISABETH: Well, I’ll tell you! I’ll start! So, I met Kurt first when he was an intern. It was the first year of the internship, and he was in the intern company. And he was standing behind the bar, and I went up to him, and I said, “Hey, I’ve seen you act.” And he barely spoke to me, never made eye contact, and now its 25 years later.

JASON: And he’s still the same way.

[Everyone laughs]

ELISABETH: I met Dana on 9/11.

KURT: Wow!

ELISABETH: Yeah. It was obviously traumatic for the whole country, but she had just flown in from New York the night before. It was a very stressful rehearsal day. But we bonded on that show. And Jason… I met two years later, and then I said I would marry him. And that’s my story!

He proposed that day?

ELISABETH: Of course, who wouldn’t?

KURT: Did Jason have a say?

[Everyone laughs]

KURT: I saw Jason do Last Train to Nibroc. I mean, I met him in the office one time, and I said, “HEY!” And… I think he said, “Hey…” back.

DANA: I met Jason working. We did a show together, Lobster Alice, that’s when we met. But Kurt…

KURT: You were an intern! When I was like, intern coordinator.

DANA: Oh yes!! That’s right! We did shows together. And you also did our showcase.

How excited are you all about the Sofia?

KURT: I mean, all the new technology will be amazing. The Outreach and Education Department will be able to expand, which I’m a part of [as director of the Summer Camp Program], which will be really exciting. I mean the B Street does great work: the new works, the intimacy. We won’t lose any of those elements. But we’ll be able to do so much more with the sound, and the lighting, and we’re gonna have a 10 foot clearance underneath the stage for the ghosts. And better showers.

ELISABETH: These actors haven’t showered in 25 years!

[Everyone laughs]

Virginia Wolf Play 3
Photo by Rudy Meyers Photography

So everyone knows the B Street Theatre Acting Company. What are the benefits of being a part of that select group?

DANA: The benefits?

KURT: This’ll be quick.

[Everyone laughs]

JASON: There’s a shorthand that happens with us. The ‘Getting-To-Know-Each-Other’ period of rehearsal, we don’t have to worry about that. So, we know each other very well. And we know what buttons to push at the right time.

ELISABETH: I keep coming back because of the food. The pretzels…
And because Buck knows us, and the audiences are so loyal, B Street is able to pull the trigger at the last minute. There has been a lot of inspiration, and a lot of wonderful productions that have happened at the last minute here, because with a year round subscription without a season announcement, Buck has been able to snag shows right off of Broadway or Off-Broadway while other theatres have had to wait a whole year. And that’s given us a lot of opportunities.

KURT: Yeah, I mean this show was done in 1962, so that’s a real quick turnaround.

JASON: I mean, we are so lucky to be company members in a theatre that employs us as much as we do. Most people have to travel around the country in order to work as much as we do. We get to work and live in the same town.

DANA: It’s not easy for me to leave home to come here, but I make a point to do it because it’s important to me. B Street is special. It’s good people, and good work. Period. That’s not as easy to come by as one might think.

JASON: Every time I work at the B Street, it’s like I’m coming back home, I’m coming back to family.

DANA: It’s a homecoming.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee runs until October 29.