Just over a year ago, New Village Arts Theatre (NVA) Executive Director Kristianne Kurner was regaling the Carlsbad group's audiences with a self-styled walk on air. NVA's move to a new space, she beamed, was around the corner, replete with the great expectations that would fuel her hot, savvy young group for years to come. But boundless blue skies yielded a quagmire of red tape, scuttling visions of an October inaugural and putting the 2006-07 season in flux.
NVA will open those new doors Thursday and Friday, June 21 and 22, onto previews of Sam Shepard's True West, with the earnest debut set for Saturday, June 23. And as arduous as the road may have been, the group had all the incentive to persevere, in the form of an innocuous, wrinkly little piece of cloth-based paper-namely the lone dollar bill that serves as its medium of exchange with the city for use of the premises.
A dollar's rent over 365 days. Eight and one-third cents a month. Roughly three-tenths of a penny every 24 hours. Barely one five-thousandth of a cent per minute. Calculate any further, and that hapless penny is ground to dust on the floor of the copper mill from whence it came.
So how did a theater company-one of North County's precious few-score a once-in-a-lifetime deal the likes of which Carlsbad's corporate heavies (including Jenny Craig and Isis Pharmaceuticals) can only dream about?
'It's the city,' Kurner explained. 'The city really recognizes the need for greater arts and culture. There's a push in Carlsbad to grow the village and make it something really special. They spent a lot of money and a lot of time doing studies on how that can happen. All of their experts come back and say, ‘You need more arts and culture.''
It's all true. A recent study by Kennedy Lawson Smith, a Boston expert on commercial-district revitalization, suggested that live performance would provide an excellent fit for the city's development plans. Carlsbad economic-development manager Cynthia Haas took it from there, citing good timing and financial savvy as elements in NVA's favor.
'We view this,' Haas said, 'as a good opportunity to experiment and see if live theater will increase foot traffic and build up the village. New Village Arts needed a space at just about the time we had something. We're glad they came forward. City Council was very impressed with their [artistic] track record and their fundraising ability.'
When the dust settles, renovations to the venue will have cost the company about $215,000, all the funding for which was acquired through private giving. About $160,000 of the money came from only two donors.
The venue is located at 2787-B State St., roughly four blocks from the ocean and two from the intersection of Carlsbad Boulevard and Carlsbad Village Drive. It was most recently home to the Children's Discovery Museum of North San Diego County and abuts a quilt shop. The 6,000-square-foot space includes a 99-seat theater, rehearsal and dressing rooms, an art gallery and some inordinately high ceilings, adorned with lots of cool old wood from the facility's ancient days as a lumber yard.
NVA, in existence since the fall of 2001, operates on an annual budget of around $200,000. Previously, it mounted its shows at Carlsbad's Jazzercise studio space on Impala Drive. It offers various theater classes and stages a free outdoor Shakespeare entry every summer.
It also holds itself out as a bona fide local company. Carlsbad, producing artistic director Jessica John noted, is a pretty conservative place in a lot of ways-and the 14-member NVA has adapted over time, compiling a history that speaks to the community's wishes accordingly.
'When you have a theater company that's doing good work,' John said, '[its product] eventually takes on not a theme but a consistent feel with audiences. NVA does plays that are kind of older, with that classic quality, but are still edgy,' such as Michael Gazzo's A Hatful of Rain, a 1955 piece on the repercussions of drug addiction. 'And this season's The Three Sisters: It's long. It's classic. It's Chekhov. But it sold out, and it had a younger, New Village Arts feel. I don't really know exactly how to define that, except that when you read it, it just has an appropriate flow.'
True West is the story of screenwriter Austin and streetwalker Lee. They're brothers and rivals, and they're about to reverse roles when a film producer offers to let Lee write a western. It's ironically funny, and it's very youthful and NVA. At long last, it's ready to open, and maybe NVA can start to recoup some expenditures accordingly. When you're bleeding out with your rent at an astounding three millionths of a cent every second, that's pretty important stuff.
True West opens in previews June 21 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787-B State St., Carlsbad. $15-$22.