Solvang Festival Theater reopens to public after 10 months of construction | Local News
Almost 10 months to the day after the launch of a multi-million dollar reconstruction project, the Solvang Festival Theater officially reopened to the public with a grand opening event on July 12.
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 steps, signaling the resumption live theater in Solvang.
“We have big plans for this new theater,” said De Bellefeuille. “Concerts, plays, comedy, weddings, receptions, festivals, movie nights, even a stunt show [are] coming later this year.”
Foxworthy Lewellen praised residents for their continued support of the project.
“It was the community 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 of Directors and Chair of the “Imagine” fundraising campaign.
“We knew our community would step up because they love this theater and recognize it as a gem,” she added.
During the event – which coincided with what the Solvang City Council proclaimed ‘Solvang Festival Theater Week’ – attendees were treated to a reception and behind-the-scenes tour that showcased improvements and upgrades to the theater.
Also in attendance was PCPA Artistic Director/Associate Dean Mark Booher, who took to the stage in the courtyard of the theater to share his excitement for the future.
“All of us at PCPA are dedicated, and this newly renovated space, to reaching new heights and seeing new vistas of possibility,” he said.
PCPA is set to bring its next production to downtown Solvang on August 11 with “Into the Woods,” which runs until September 4, followed by “Native Grounds” from September 9-17.
“PCPA is looking forward to returning to our newly renovated summer residence and thrilled with how these renovations will truly enhance the theater experience for everyone,” said PCPA Marketing Director Nicole Raftery.
Project finished, no more to lift
While the campaign initially aimed to raise $4.7 million for the construction, the needle was raised due to inflation, according to Theaterfest executive director Scott Coe, who noted that initial estimates had been calculated in 2019.
“Due to escalating actual construction costs during this period, we felt fortunate that the final total of $5.3 [million] represented a relatively minor and manageable escalation,” he said.
Despite the $600,000 cost hike, Coe announced to more than 300 people in attendance on July 12 that Theaterfest was only $333,000 away from reaching its final campaign goal.
He recalled the launch of the fundraising campaign in 2019, Theaterfest turned to the community for support, and the community stepped up, resulting in donations from over 600 individuals, companies and foundations.
Apart from “a few things on the final slate,” he said, the project is considered complete and reassured the community, “we’ve passed the $5 million mark.”
The theatre, which will celebrate 48 years in the community on August 7, was showing serious signs of aging when Theaterfest board members agreed to move forward with the massive project.
The project began in September 2021 with the aim of improving the theater’s accessibility, technical capabilities and enhancing the audience experience with a taller wall, acoustic upgrades and new seating.
Completed upgrades include a new ramp to the theater and box office that is ADA compliant, and a new back wall that added an additional 8 feet of height with cantilevered panels to help deflect wind, trap more heat and dampen outside noise.
The design plans also took security improvements into account.
The aging utility poles – dating back to when the theater was originally built – have since been replaced with new steel lighting columns to improve safety for the public, performers, as well as lighting technicians who operate from the top of the towers during performances.
The custom-made columns are said to weigh over 12,000 pounds each and tower over 50 feet above the theater.
The theater also has new seats. The old red seats purchased from 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 made him feel emotional.
“In the midst of COVID, a year of postponements, a short summer season in 2021, then a 10-month closure for construction, it’s been a roller coaster,” 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 heartbreaking, having witnessed such a “deep passion for this theatre” and seeing the community come together to support the project.
“It’s hard not to get a little emotional about the end of this project. I’ve had a front-row seat to everything – and watching it all come together has been amazing,” he said. “Now it’s our turn to amaze the community.”
The Solvang Festival Theater is officially under construction after Theaterfest board members rammed the theater wall with masses during a groundbreaking ceremony on September 13.
The Solvang Festival Theatre, Solvang Senior Center and Santa Ynez Rotary all received financial aid from the Solvang City Council on Monday when it voted 4-1 to approve their various funding requests totaling nearly $133,000.
The custom columns, which replaced a 47-year-old set of 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.