Last Sunday afternoon, immediately following the final performance of Sonoma County Repertory Theater's spare and lovely Cyrano, a bittersweet party broke out at the tiny Main Street theater space in Sebastopol. Marking the still hard-to-believe closing of the Rep, in mixed-emotion celebration of the company's 17 years in operation, nearly 200 crammed into the compact space to share memories, tell stories, trade photographs—and whisper about the future.
Because, yes, the beloved little theater space at the corner of Bodega and Main Street will have a future. The rumor, passed around the party like a phrase in a game of telephone, was that a collective of local theater companies, actors, dancers, singers and teachers is to take over the space.
Director Beth Craven can now confirm the rumor.
"The theater will be renamed, but we're not sure what that name will be," says Craven, one member of a newly formed group tentatively calling itself the Professional Performing Artists Consortium (or P-PAC). The other members of the new organization include a number of established theater companies (Cinnabar Theater, Imaginists Theatre Collective, Napa Valley Conservatory Theater, Heritage Music Theater, FOG Theater and First Look Sonoma), plus several independent theater artists (Keith Baker, Allison Rae Baker, David Lear and others).
"As a group," Craven says, "we felt very strongly that we couldn't let [the Rep theater space] die. It's an institution. The thought of losing the West County's primary performance space was so painful. That was the fire in the belly that got us started."
According to Craven, the consortium will be structured to be lean and mean, pooling the creative and financial resources of all members. At first, the theater's only staff will be herself and Keith Baker, acting as coordinators and "communication nexus" for the other groups using the space to present new works, and also as one stop along an emerging theater circuit, that idea being one of the more interesting pieces of the new plan.
"With certain exceptions, Sebastopol people don't go to Petaluma to see theater," says Craven. "Petaluma people don't go to Sonoma, and Sonoma people don't go to shows in Santa Rosa. Our idea is to create a circuit where, instead of every theater busting its ass to stage eight or 12 shows in a season, each company could build four shows or six shows, and then make their space available to other companies, so the theater ends up with 12 shows. That's the embryo of the idea that we are working with. A company can put up a show, and then take it on the road to Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Napa. And the Rep space will be a big part of that circuit."
The first show at the Sebastopol theater, to a certain degree, is an example of that concept. In May, under the direction of Jennifer King (longtime associate with the Rep, and currently artistic director of the Napa Performing Arts Center), the space will host a production of Yasmina Reza's Art, featuring Dodds Delzell, Tim Kniffin and Tim Setzer, the same cast and director who recently staged the play at Sixth Street Playhouse and in Napa. The play will run May 13-29. To kick things off, there will be what Craven calls a "curtain raiser" event the last weekend of April, featuring a performance or two of Woody Guthrie's American Song (directed by Craven and recently staged at Cinnabar), along with some as-yet-unnamed musical events.
There are, Craven says, no existing models on which the new Consortium structure is based. Whatever the new theater is called, and however it ends up being structured, she admits that the alliance will be forging into new territory.
"It's such a rich idea," Craven says, "to work together, sharing resources as we create exceptional theater together."
The best part, Craven repeats—and this is a sentiment that surely will be shared by the army of Rep fans who gathered to honor that company's long legacy—is that there will still be a theater in Sebastopol. It may no longer be called the Sonoma County Repertory Theater, but the little theater on the corner will, for the foreseeable future, be keeping its lights on.