Solvang Festival Theater reopens to the public after 10 months of construction | local news
Almost 10 months to the day after breaking ground on a multimillion-dollar reconstruction project, the Solvang Festival Theater officially reopened on July 12 with a ribbon-cutting event.
Surrounded by community leaders, theater donors and members of the public, Theaterfest board members Chris Nielsen, Ann Foxworthy Lewellen and Denise De Bellefeuille cut the ceremonial red ribbon on the theater’s front steps, signaling the resumption of live theater in Solvang.
“We have big plans for this new theatre,” said De Bellefeuille. “Concerts, plays, comedy, weddings, receptions, festivals, movie nights, even a stunt dog performance [are] coming later this year.”
Foxworthy Lewellen commended the locals for their tireless support of the project.
“It was the municipality that built this theater in 1974, the citizens who made it. We needed them to support us again,” said Foxworthy Lewellen, vice chairman of the Theaterfest board and chairman of the Imagine Capital Campaign.
“We knew our community would stand up because they love this theater and recognize it as a gem,” she added.
During the event – which coincided with the ‘Solvang Festival Theater Week’ proclaimed by Solvang City Council – attendees were treated to a reception and a behind-the-scenes tour showcasing the theatre’s improvements and modernisations.
Also in attendance was PCPA Artistic Director/Associate Dean Mark Booher, who took to the theater’s courtyard stage to share his excitement about the future.
“All of us at PCPA are dedicated to reaching new heights and seeing new vistas of opportunity, and this newly renovated space,” he said.
PCPA will bring its next production to downtown Solvang on August 11 with “Into the Woods” which runs through September 4, followed by “Native Grounds” from September 9-17.
“PCPA is excited to return to our newly renovated summer home and excited to see how these renovations will truly enhance the theater experience for all,” said PCPA Marketing Director Nicole Raftery.
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While the campaign originally aimed to raise $4.7 million for construction, inflation pushed the needle higher, according to Theaterfest executive director Scott Coe, who noted that the first estimates were calculated in 2019 were.
“Due to the escalation in actual construction costs over this period, we were pleased to see the final grand total of $5.3 [million] represented a relatively minor and manageable escalation,” he said.
Despite the $600,000 jump in costs, Coe announced on July 12 in front of more than 300 attendees that Theaterfest was just $333,000 away from reaching its ultimate campaign goal.
He recalled when the 2019 fundraiser began, Theaterfest reached out to the community for support and the community came through, resulting in donations from more than 600 individuals, businesses and foundations.
Aside from “a few minor things on the final lack list,” he said the project was complete and assured the community “we’ve surpassed the $5 million mark.”
The theatre, which will celebrate its 48th anniversary in the community on August 7, showed signs of aging as the Theaterfest board members agreed to move forward with the extensive project.
Groundbreaking for the project took place in September 2021 with the aim of improving the theater’s accessibility and technical capabilities, and improving the audience experience through a higher wall, acoustic improvements and new seating.
Completed upgrades include new ramp access to the theater and box office that complies with Americans with Disabilities Act and a new back wall that adds an additional 8 feet of height with cantilevered panels to deflect wind, trap more heat and outside noise to dampen.
Safety improvements were also taken into account in the design plans.
Aging utility poles dating back to the theater’s original construction have now been replaced with new steel light poles designed to improve safety for audiences, performers and lighting technicians who work from the top of the towers during performances.
The custom columns are said to weigh more than 12,000 pounds each and soar more than 50 feet above the theater.
The theater also features new seating. Old red seats purchased at a stadium in Cleveland, Ohio and installed in 1974 were replaced with Royal Copenhagen Blue seats.
Coe said standing at the finish line and looking back evokes emotions for him.
“Amidst COVID, a year of postponements, a short summer season in 2021, then a 10-month closure for construction, it’s been a rollercoaster ride,” he said. “Honestly, the smoothest part was the construction.”
Coe, who joined Theaterfest in April 2020 – in the midst of a pandemic – called the more than two-year process humbling and disheartening after witnessing “such a deep passion for this theater” and seeing the community come together in support from the project.
“It’s hard not to get a little emotional about the end of this project. I had a front row seat to everything – and to see it all come together was amazing,” he said. “Now it’s our turn to surprise the community.”
The Solvang Festival Theater is officially under construction after members of the Theaterfest Board banged sledgehammers on the theater wall during a groundbreaking ceremony on September 13.
The custom columns, which replaced a set of 47-year-old wooden utility poles, each weigh more than 12,000 pounds and rise more than 50 feet above the theater.
Lisa André covers lifestyle and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record, editions of the Santa Maria Times.