In arguably the biggest step forward in OC theater in nearly 50 years, the Chance Theater announced last night that it is tripling its seating capacity by moving into a new space.
It's not a long move. The theater is taking over a unit in the same Anaheim Hills industrial park that it's called home since opening in 1999. But in terms of physical space and, just as important, further solidifying its legitimacy in Southern California theater, it's an enormous move. The Chance will double its square footage, from 3,000-square-feet to 6,000-square-feet and triple its capacity, from its current 49 seats to 150.
The Chance will finish its 2013 season its is current space, and will open its 2014 season in the new space, in early February, Managing Director Casey Long says.
It's the largest expansion of an Orange County storefront theater since 1967, when South Coast Repertory moved from a 75-seat theater on the Balboa Peninsula into a converted Sprouse-Reitz variety store in Costa Mesa, which housed 217 seats. Nine years later, SCR moved into a 507-seat theater at its present location, followed the year later by the addition of a 161-seat Second Stage.
Whether the Chance makes another huge leap in its future is obviously up to the vagaries of finance, the willingness of people to still care enough about live theater to support it, and humanity not destroying itself in any number of ways. But if does happen, it won't be for 10 years, as that's how long its new lease will last.
"We'd been talking and thinking about this for many years," Long says. "And we'd discussed it among ourselves and with our board and when this opportunity presented itself late last year, we just knew it was the right time."
Additionally, the Chance moving next door means it gets to stay in Anaheim. "We wanted to stay in Anaheim," Long says. "The city has been supportive and our patrons have been so good to us."
The bigger digs will allow more bodies and a more comfortable space for performers and audiences (more bathrooms, a greatly expanded lobby, etc). That will translate into more revenue. Long estimates the Chance has averaged 94 percent capacity the past three years for its runs.
But it will also mean the Chance will most likely enter into an agreement with Actors' Equity, the union for stage actors, that will allow it to use union actors (you know, the ones that get paid something for working?) at a reduced rate. Currently in Los Angeles, Actors Equity allows union actors to work at theaters with fewer than 99 seats and get paid well below their standard rate. That plan doesn't apply, for whatever reason, to Orange County theater. With 150 seats, the Chance would pay its union actors more than 99-seat theaters in Los Angeles but is hopeful it can negotiate a contract with Actors Equity that will "allow us to not lose our shirts by hiring equity performers," Long says.
The Chance has paid all of its performers something since the day it opened, Long says, but being able to use a few union actors in its season may allow it to gain access to hot theatrical commodities sooner.
"The increased earning potential will allow us to pay our performers more, as well as to offer equity contracts, which on paper just makes us looks better. There are some shows that come along that aren't available to us, newer shows that are exciting and we'd love to do, and this will help expand our possibilities."
However, the Chance will remain committed to local talent.
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"That's not going to change," Long said. "We're still [going to rely heavily] on the local talent we've used for years. We're not moving away, but expanding. But we've actually used actors who wanted to join [the union] but were not doing so because then they couldn't have worked with us. This may give them even more opportunity."
Another thing that won't change with the move is the theater's programming aesthetic, Long says.
"You're not going to see a big change in programming, but this definitely opens up our possibilities," he said. "And we're not going to move away from our black-box set-up. You'll still get that intimate experience but it will be a more comfortable experience for everyone involved."