For Petersburg’s lone professional theater company, it seemed as though the final curtain was imminent. Following the recession, Sycamore Rouge’s major financial backer informed the company that it would be unable to continue funding. The timing couldn’t have been worse. The news came just as the theater company was about to refinance a 5-year balloon payment on the mortgage for its theater.
To purchase the building and pay for its next season, the theater attempted to raise $300,000 to continue part of its mission to help revitalize downtown Petersburg. Eventually it raised about half of its goal and decided to buy the building, but move the theater to a different space a block away.
“The new space is just more realistic for us to manage,” says KB Saine, the company’s artistic director and chairwoman. The annual cost of keeping up the company’s cavernous but beautiful former building and kitchen was equal to that of staging a fully-produced show. Even though the company wasn’t using the kitchen, they had to maintain it to keep it up to code. “It ended up being more to stay in that building than to actively make art.”
The company’s new, converted storefront was originally a department store 200 years ago. The cozy space is owned by a longtime supporter who is renting the building to the company, and Sycamore has put its former location up for sale.
Petersburg Mayor Brian Moore says Sycamore has been an integral part of the efforts to revitalize the city. “They’ve done a great job downtown with the community,” he says, adding that the company’s shows also help bring in out-of-towners to experience Petersburg. “They get to see all of the great things that we have to offer.”
One group of visitors that recently got to experience Petersburg was the cast and crew of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” The movie filmed directly in front of the old theater.
“We stopped driving to work because the streets were covered in mulch,” Saine says. “The front half of our building was completely taken over by the set.”
Saine says the “Lincoln” crew was friendly, and that Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner came by to hang out at the theater.
“Everyone was very cool and gracious,” Saine says.
In December, the company staged the Thornton Wilder classic “Our Town” in the new location. Its latest venture is a co-production of Cheryl West’s “Before It Hits Home” with Richmond Triangle Players. The show is about a bisexual, black jazz musician who contracts AIDS and goes home to be with his family. The show ran for a few weeks at Richmond Triangle Players and will move to Sycamore Rouge next week. Saine hopes the show will stimulate a dialogue with the community in Petersburg.
Next up are Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” and Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” which will be free for Petersburg audiences.
“We are very happy in our new home and doing very well,” Saine says. “We’re really able to focus on the art now.”
“Before It Hits Home” plays Feb. 22-March 10 at Sycamore Rouge, 306 N. Sycamore St., Petersburg. For information, visit sycamorerouge.org or call 957-5707.