B Street’s Holiday Show Tradition

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For 23 years B Street Theatre has premiered an original play every holiday season. The majority of these plays are written by our founder and Artistic Director Buck Busfield. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill sat down with Buck to discuss the tradition just before our last play in the 2711 B Street location premieres.

When did you first start writing holiday shows?

Buck: 1994! It was the third year of B Street Theatre, and what happened was… it became holiday time, and Christmas Carol was too big, and we didn’t want to do Child’s Christmas in Wales and there was nothing else out there. We knew that we wanted to be fresh and new and fun and have the B Street Theatre feel and have something that could fit on our stage. So I just wrote something.

What was it called?

Holiday Tales from Around the World and we obviously researched holiday tradition from different nations across the globe. We had a Muslim tale for the Festival of Eed; De’vali from India; and we did a Christmas from colonial New England. It was a Fantasy Theatre styled show, like an hour and a half. It was the first one and it was fun and adequate.

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“Holiday Tales From Around the World” featuring Dave Pierini and Mindy Stover-1994

Why’d you keep doing it?

I liked it. It was fun. The next year I wrote All Through the House which was really funny. And I just kept doing it. And I’ve done it every year. Well, not every year. There’s been some exceptions. But it’s mostly my work.

How has this tradition helped you improve as a writer?

Well, the only way to get better as a playwright is to write. Now, I’d say it’s improved my structure and technique. I always know where I’m going when I begin to write. When I first started, I begin writing and I’d get excited, ya know, I’d say, ‘Oh man! This is gonna be so good! This is gonna be really fun!” and I’d suddenly find myself in a corner. Now, as a mature writer, when I sit down to begin a story, I know how it’s going to end. That’s an important thing to learn.

How has the Holiday Show furthered B Street’s commitment to creating new work?

It’s the signature characteristic of B Street. Between School Tour, and Family Series, and Main Stage, we’ve premiered about 100 shows. It all started with school tour. We’ve all cut our teeth writing for Fantasy Theatre. When you have to write a six minute piece, and you need a protagonist, and a rising action and a climax and a resolution, and you want it to be good, you learn how to create a theatrical story that’s funny, compelling, and, most importantly, communicates to an audience. So now, with these holiday shows we’re able to write them in less than a month because we’ve had the practice.

What’s the quickest  you’ve written a holiday show?

Six days.

Wow!

We had commissioned a playwright to write a holiday show, I forget the year. And he had refused to show me any pages before the first read-through. And after the first reading, I scrapped it. The playwright flew back to his home, I delayed rehearsal for a week, and I turned a two person play into a seven person play.

Under a week?

Yeah, in six days. Our latest adaptation of Christmas Carol also took six days. Once I realized it centered around an intervention, the story just came out real quick. Plus I get to have a lot of costume changing and slamming doors, which is always funny.

What’s been your favorite holiday show?

Well, I  like all of them. But, if I had to choose… I mean, Throwing Parties was probably the best written… you know… page to page. I loved Kurt’s character in A Pale of Grace. He played this crazy guy from Eastern Europe. And one of my goals is to laugh in rehearsal, and I wrote him this monologue that he himself couldn’t get through the first couple of times without laughing, which always feels like an accomplishment for a playwright.

This’ll continue in the Sofia?

Oh yeah, as long as the audience wants it, we’ll do it.

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‘Hear the Grass Grow’ featuring Dave Pierini, Ed Claudio, Elisabeth Nunziato, and Deborah O’Brien-2008

A Moving Day will be the last play produced at the 2711 B Street location. It opens November 12 and runs until Christmas Eve. Get your tickets.

 

 

 

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B Street at the Haunted Fort

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This Friday and Saturday, Acting Company members Amy Kelly and Tara Sissom will be featured at Sutter’s Fort Halloween event, “Haunted Fort.”  Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill previews the play written for the event, and the history behind it.

On a Friday afternoon, I called Amy Kelly and Tara Sissom and asked if they wanted to take part in a ghost story. Amy immediately said, “Yes,” which was followed by,  “Wait… am I playing a man again?” After confirming this, it took a couple of more minutes to convince her that it would be fun. Tara Sissom agreed as long as Amy was playing a man.

We’re known here at B Street to take part in many special events for organizations that we believe in. And often times, we create original work for it. In some cases it is sketch comedy. Other times, it’s improvisation. What can we say? We like making people laugh.

In September, Sutter’s Fort (our soon to be neighbor) approached us and asked if we would like to write an original short play for a Halloween event called ‘Haunted Fort.’ As a self- proclaimed nerd, it fell on my shoulders to dive into the history of the countries oldest restored fort and write something funny, scary, and historically interesting.

On a Tuesday morning, Marketing Manager Liz Liles-Brown and I sat with Nancy Jenner, the curator of Sutter’s Fort, to brainstorm some ideas. There were plenty of stories which lent itself to comedy: cholera, the Bear Flag Revolution, the flood of 1862, and the unknown graves of gold miners (just kidding, folks).  However it was two specific stories that piqued my interest:

  1. Olive Larsen was the last inhabitant of Sutter’s Fort before it closed down in the 1870’s. As big time investors and bank financiers attempted to take the Fort from her, and as the Fort itself began to disintegrate around her, Olive stayed put, raising her family and assisting travelers from 1864 til 1870. Eventually, the city was able to force Olive out of her home, and for twenty years, the Fort remained uninhabited, standing like a haunted mansion.
  2. In the 1890’s, the Fort was resurrected, and in 1894, the city used it to quell a state-wide worker’s strike.  Following the lead of Donald L. McMurry and his Ohio based, Coxey’s Army, the Industrial armies of California had migrated to Sacramento with the intent to travel to Washington D.C and protest President Grover Cleveland and  the inability to combat the recent recession. The city believed that placing them in Sutter’s Fort would dishearten the cause and keep the protesters away from civilians. Soon enough, the protest ran out of money. And once the leader of Sacramento’s Industrial Army was revealed to be an ex-convict, the movement came to a swift end.

I wanted to tell both of these stories, but I was instructed to write only ten minutes of material. So what did I do? I infused them together. Then I added a ghost; a ghost who is obsessed with the past and bothered by the future.

It is easy to re-tell the discovery of gold. But Sutter’s Fort has so much more history inside of its walls, and we are happy to be unveiling a story that often goes overlooked. So come by the State Park this Friday or Saturday and enjoy B Street’s original play, “Olive’s Fort.”

 

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Olive’s Fort will be performed this Friday October 27 and Saturday October 28 at Sutter’s Fort State Park. It will feature Company members Amy Kelly, Tara Sissom, and Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill. Tickets are available online at https://hauntedfortsac.brownpapertickets.com/.

B Street’s Circle of Support

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In 1979, Tim Busfield, with the help of his friend John Hardy, began a non-equity children’s touring company in Johnson City, Tennessee called Kaleidoscope. The theatre folded quickly and Tim moved to California in order to begin his commercial career. Tim decided to try once again, and with the help of John and his brother Buck, rented an apartment on G Street in Sacramento, CA, and started Fantasy Theatre. In that time, Sacramento was the host of many successful theatre companies, including Music Circus, Sacramento Theatre Company, and Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre. It was a much better city to introduce a new professional theatre, and with a brand new van they had just bought from Downtown Ford and actors whom they knew and trusted, Fantasy Theatre began performing in many schools north of the city. The company flourished, and with it, the Busfield brothers were able to create a new theatre for adults in 1991, which they named the B Street Theatre.

In its second year of existence, B Street Theatre hit a financial skid. Low on money, and desperate to keep the company going, Buck met with company member Ed Claudio and, using an electronic typewriter, began the first giving program called ‘Ten Dollar Beg.’ Ed typed letters to B Street patrons, asking for a gift of ten dollars, and added a simple plea at the very top of the paper: “Won’t You Please Help Us?” Within the first year, ‘Ten Dollar Beg’ had raised $60,000. Twenty five years later, thanks to a faithful subscriber base and a diversity of small and large donors alike, we now offer a School Tour, a Family Series, a Mainstage Series and are about to move into a state-of-the art complex on Capital and 27th.

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It is easy to grow complacent once dreams are realized. Since 1998, the company has worked to build a complex worthy of the work we do at the B Street Theatre. Now that this dream is realized, the next step will be successfully running The Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts. Costs for the best actors, maintenance, design, scripts, and classes are high, much higher than it is in our current location. With the desire to keep nights at the new B Street fun and affordable, the theatre asks again: Won’t you please help us?

B Street Theatre is proud to introduce the Sofia Circle of Support, a new annual giving program for a new B Street home. Donors will receive recognition, free drinks, VIP passes to some of B Street’s best events, and inclusive access to rehearsals and new play development. But more importantly, these donors will be a part of a club which gives the theatre more opportunities to grow. Most patrons of B Street know that it is not ‘stuffy’. It is a collection of fun, easy going artists who often have drinks with patrons after the show and discuss not only theatre, but family, comedy, and the city that we all love so much.

Sacramento has always understood the importance of supporting professional theatre. While San Jose, San Diego and Oakland are larger cities, they do not host as many professional theatre companies as Sacramento. This city has an innate understanding that performance art is not simply a luxury but a necessity for growth. It is one of the reasons Mayor Steinberg introduced the Capital Arts Campaign. It is a large reason that theatre artists have made Sacramento home. It is the reason the Sofia will open its doors in February.

The party only gets better from here.

Information about the Sofia Circle of Support is on our website. Simply go to the How To Give page.

Dana Brooke’s Latest Success

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Acting Company member Dana Brooke can be currently seen on the B Street Stage as Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She’s also just won the Best Actress award at the Reno/Lake Tahoe Film Festival for her portrayal of the title character in Laura Gets a Cat. Artistic Associate, Sean Patrick Nill, sat down with Dana to discuss the difference between film and stage.

You’re the best actress at the Reno/Tahoe International Film Festival! Congrats!

DANA: Thanks, Sean.

What is your new movie, Laura Gets a Cat, about?

Laura Gets a Cat is a relationship comedy/drama feature film. Laura, an unemployed writer in New York City, tries to juggle an unexciting boyfriend, a vivid imaginary life, and a love affair with a local performance artist. When things get too complicated, she shoots off to a small beach town in North Carolina, only to find out that peace of mind is not necessarily found by chasing it.

When did you first start acting in movies? How has your film career grown over the years?

I first started doing TV and film a couple years out of college. Although I do love it, it wasn’t necessarily my intention to move in that direction. I knew I wanted to do theatre throughout my career, and the on-camera stuff just started to present itself, which I’m absolutely grateful for. As for the second part of the question, I’d say I don’t really have a “film career.” It’s all just part of the whole career, part of the work. And in terms of my work on camera, I suppose the biggest significant change over the years is, the roles have become larger. I’ve been asked to carry more in the way of plot and character. Which is always fun.

What’s the biggest difference between acting on stage and acting on film?

Well, the thing you’ll hear most often is that on camera, less is more. Do less, speak in a natural speaking voice, don’t move your body as much – and to a certain extent, that’s all true. The camera picks up every nuance in a performance, so an actor doesn’t have to pay as much attention to making sure she’s being seen or heard as she does on stage. In that sense, the biggest difference is purely technical. But in every other way, the two are not all that different in my opinion. Both must be genuine. No matter the medium, the most important thing with any form of acting is to come from an honest place. So whether on stage or on camera, I tend to approach the material in a similar way. The two spaces are different physically, logistically, practically, but emotionally the demand can be very much the same, depending on the material.

How did you get cast in Laura Gets a Cat? What was it like to film?

Writer/director Michael Ferrell and I had done a play together a million years ago in New York. We’d been in touch on and off over the years, and at some point along the way, he approached me and said I’m writing something with you in mind… so we did a couple of table reads, and I really responded to the material. That was that. A few months later we were shooting. The whole thing happened very quickly, really.

Filming was great. It was difficult in that everyone was wearing multiple hats (small crew), but that’s also what made it great. Everyone working on the film was there because they genuinely cared about the project, so there was no “noise,” so to speak. It was quick, 15 days total I think. We worked hard… we had a blast.

Has your stage work assisted your film acting? How?

I think absolutely, yes.  I have great respect for text, for the actual script/screenplay. I do my best to honor the writer’s words, as much as they’d like me to. I think that probably comes from having a background in theatre.

With all your work in movies and in other theatres, why do make it a point to come back to B Street Theatre?

I’ve said it from the very start of my career, there is no place like B Street. I value the work, the people, the opportunity to play, to stretch, to fail, to try again. I’ve grown exponentially as an actor, as a person really, from working here over the years. And so, yes, I make it a point to come back. B Street is important to me; I’ll continue to come back for as long as they’ll have me.

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Where can people buy or see Laura Gets A Cat?

Laura Gets A Cat is currently on the festival circuit through the end of the year. You can find out where it’s being screened as well as details about the release date at lauragetsacat.com.

Dana Brooke is currently starring as Honey in B Street’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which runs until October 29th (added performance at 7:00 PM)

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.

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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.

 

Meet the ambassadors of B Street’s Family Series

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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

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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.