Enchanted Playhouse to lose its home

After 21 years, the Enchanted Playhouse Theater Company is leaving the Main Street Theater, and not by choice, as City Hall is in talks to sell the downtown landmark.

City Bowing Out

Earlier this year, the city quietly began taking bids on the 400-plus-seat former cinema, with the minimum bid starting at $450,000.

Many of the Enchanted Playhouse supporters were shocked to find out the group’s current production of Peter Pan on Main Street will be its last at the location. The play closed May 12.

“A lot of people were surprised to hear it was for sale,” said Debbie Hardin, president of the Enchanted Playhouse’s board of directors.

Many of those who did know the theater was up for sale weren’t aware the Enchanted Playhouse was in danger of losing its home base, where it stores its props, costumes, and rehearses plays and holds acting workshops.

“I don’t think people realized that if it sold to someone who wasn’t willing or able to rent the venue to us as is, as a theater, we would no longer have a home,” Hardin said.

Rotten Tomatoes

When the truth finally dawned, the outcry against City Hall started in earnest, but because no one at the Enchanted Playhouse had checked the city’s schedule, they were caught unaware and showed up late.

“That’s when a lot people started calling and emailing,” Hardin said. “We didn’t know the meeting was at 4 (o’clock), so the information didn’t go out. It (the decision to sell) was in closed session.”

Deputy City Manager Leslie Caviglia said the city is still receiving comments from citizens concerned about the Enchanted Playhouse’s future.

“Certainly we have received some emails and so on,” she said. “They were right before the council meeting mainly. There were a couple received over the week.”

All Seems Lost

Those connected to the Enchanted Playhouse were holding out hope Rainmaker Productions, a local concert promotion business, would win the day. Their plan, had they won the bidding, was to let out the Main Street Theater for rent on a per-event basis.

Rainmaker lost to Legacy Investments, a property development group operated by C.R. Shannon and associated with CRS Farming of Visalia. Shannon did not respond to a request for an interview.

Caviglia confirmed the city is negotiating a contract, but she declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality.

Hardin said Legacy will turn the theater into more downtown eateries.

“I was told point-blank two restaurants, which I was shocked because I had no idea that anyone would make a proposal for a restaurant in a theater space, because it’s a full theater,” she said.

Ice House-Creative Center Rumors

Hardin said the city’s decision to sell the Main Street Theater has spawned rumors it also intends to sell the Ice House Theater, as well as the buildings that house the Creative Center.

The Creative Center is a community arts facility for developmentally disabled adults, which shares a city-owned campus at Santa Fe Street and Bridge Street. Interim Director Bailey Hagar, whose last day at the Center was May 11, said he was unwilling to discuss the Center’s relationship with its landlord.

“We’re holding close to the vest,” he said. “We don’t have assurances of anything. We hope to be in the same location for the next hundred years.”

Caviglia again declined to comment about whether the city was in talks with the Creative Center Foundation, the Center’s parent body.

Native Visalian Joel Glick, a former city official at Reedley City Hall, is replacing former director Amanda Guajardo, who resigned in January. Glick was hired in April to head the Center.

“I think he is going to be an amazing director,” Hagar said. “He has experience in directing the community services department in Reedley for 22 years. He understands budgets. He understands dealing with governments and regulations, which we deal with here as a licensed facility.”

For the Best

Hardin says it may be a good thing the Main Street Theater is getting a new purpose, and that was the other reason the Enchanted Playhouse did not enter the bidding war for the theater. The first reason was they simply couldn’t afford the asking price.

“The other (reason) was the theater is old enough to need some renovation,” Hardin said. “If we’d tried to buy the theater, we were looking at several hundreds of thousands of dollars along the way.”

The simple truth, she said, is the old girl is plain warn out.

“We’ve felt like something’s going to break, and we’re not going to have the money to fix it,” she said. “There just comes a point when your old washer breaks 24 times, do you fix it a 25th time?”

The city is getting quite a return on its investment. While at the Main Street Theater, the Enchanted Playhouse has paid the city rent–up to $3,000 a month–and paid for the building’s upkeep for the last two decades.

The Show Must Go On

While the old show biz adage applies, and the show will go on, the question is where.

“In the meantime, we have a season, we have directors and scripts for a season, but at this time no place to hold it,” Hardin said. The group is awaiting its board’s choice of direction. “As soon as the Board says let’s do this, that’s when the feet hit the pavement.”

Their requirement is simple.

“We need an equipped theater in order to do what we do,” Hardin said. “Our hope would be that somehow it works out that Enchanted Playhouse could stay there and rent until the city moves forward.”

The Play’s the Thing

The Enchanted Playhouse isn’t just a theater production company. It also serves as an introduction to drama and theater for tens of thousands of Tulare County students each year. So far this season, the Enchanted Playhouse has presented to more than 13,000 students.

So it’s in everyone’s best interest, Hardin says, to ensure her group finds an affordable, permanent home.

“It would be beneficial to us and this community to have our own theater,” Hardin said. “The best thing for our actors, directors, innovative writers, and all those people involved would be to have our own self-sufficient place.”

As is often the case in theatrics, reality has played a trump card.

“We don’t have the funds for that right now,” Hardin said. “Starting very soon we are going to need public support for funds and for ideas and for sponsorship to move forward with a new location, and then eventually, hopefully own place.”

For more information about the Enchanted Playhouse Theater Company, visit enchantedplayhouse.org.

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