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B Street caters to children with theater expansion

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When the new B Street Theatre is completed, Sacramento will have something rare in regional theater – a full-size professional theater for children.

“We’re building the region’s only professional theater for kids,” said Productions Artistic Director Buck Busfield. “The next-closest one is in Los Angeles.”

The current theater, located at 2711 B Street, will move to a new complex at 27th Street and Capital Avenue, but will retain the current name.

Both the adult’s and children’s theaters will be at that site, but the adult’s theater will remain an intimate space, with a gain of 50 seats to bring the total to 250.

The children’s theater – officially dubbed the Sutter Children’s Theatre – however, will more than triple in size from 100 seats to 365.

“It’ll give us fly space, trap space and wing space,” said Busfield, explaining that stage sets will be able to be moved from above, below (in trap doors) or from the sides much more efficiently.

“It gives us a great capacity to mesmerize the kids,” Busfield said.

Busfield was quick to point out that, despite what might be implied by “children’s theater,” all performers are professionals, and it means that the performances are geared toward young audiences from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The performances that can be expected are in line with the current offerings for children, including historical plays and adaptations of popular works such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” as well as original plays.

Capital Campaign Manager Jamie Romas said the number of shows will initially be the same, at 336 shows per year, but if the market demands it, more shows will be offered.

Currently, according to Busfield, the theater is forced to turn away about 2,000 children per year due to tickets being sold out months in advance, and but the increased capacity at the new theater will allow them all to see performances.

Busfield said the thing he finds most satisfying is watching kids going into the shows thinking they won’t enjoy it, then coming out “mesmerized” and having a new appreciation for the arts.

The project for the theater, which is a nonprofit, has a price tag of about $15 million, and about $2 million has been raised, according to Romas.

“We’re planning to finance 5 or 6 million,” Romas said. “We have to raise at least 9 million.”

The fundraising campaign will kick off on Dec. 11, and Romas said she doesn’t anticipate any difficulties in reaching the target amount.

“The Crocker is a wonderful example of what this community can do,” she said, referring to the recent opening of the renovated art museum, which involved about $100 million in fundraising efforts.

Busfield said there are about 10,000 subscribers – people with season tickets – to the B Street Theatre, and he hopes they will help the theater reach its goal.

One of the fundraising methods involves donors purchasing a star that will be displayed in the lobby for $5,000. The stars are created by a local artist, and if donors have a specific idea of what they’d like on their stars, Romas said they can work with the artist for an additional fee.

Busfield said he anticipates the groundbreaking to take place in 2012, followed by 14 months of building, then holding its first show in 2013.

The land was donated by Sutter General Hospital, and Busfield said the location is ideal.

“There’s a 400-space parking structure right behind it, and it’s surrounded by some of the city’s finest restaurants,” he said, adding that it is just about two blocks away from the Capital City Freeway, and the proximity to the hospital means kids there will be able to see performances.

The theater, according to Busfield, provides more than just entertainment for the kids.

“It’s an immeasurable contribution on the artistic side,” he said. “So many studies have shown that kids who are involved with performing arts do better in class and are more likely to do well afterward.”

Sacramento City Unified School District Area Assistant Superintendent Lisa Allen, who is in charge of arts coordination in the district, said the theater expansion is a welcome addition for the area’s youth.

“Research shows that a curriculum richly infused with the arts helps children in many ways,” Allen said. “It improves academics, encourages emotional development and lets kids see the worlds beyond their classroom doors.”

Allen added that sites off of school grounds like the new theater are effective.

“The expansion of children’s theater in Sacramento is a positive step to introducing every child from every neighborhood to the magic of live performance,” she said.

For more information, visit here.

Images courtesy B Street Theatre.

Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.

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