by Evelyne Vivies
UPDATE ON THE BUILDING-The Enchanted Playhouse has been given some extra time to come up with the money to purchase the building. Their short term goal is to raise $50,000 on GoFundMe to get them started. It’s for a down payment on the building.
Some not-so-enchanting changes are on the horizon for The Enchanted Playhouse Theater Company, a charming little theater company that has been bringing family-friendly live theatre to Visalia from its location inside the Main Street Theater since the ’90s.
Central Valley residents have been so accustomed to seeing The Enchanted Playhouse sign on the Main Street Theater building, that it was commonly believed that they were one and the same. However, not only are they separate entities, but they are on the verge of further separation. The building has been sold. Well almost. With a complete makeover in the works. In fact, the City of Visalia, current owners of the building, has received and accepted a bid offer for its purchase that will not include the continued lease to the Enchanted Playhouse.
The Enchanted Playhouse whose mission is to “Enchant, surprise, excite and amuse audiences, young and old,” is making a last-ditch effort to be able to stay. I met with Shanna Meier, board member of the enchanted playhouse at the Main Street Theater.
“This is our home” says Shanna. “It was created in 1992. We started out by renting different theaters, such as the Rotary Theater.” Shanna explains. “In 1997 we started leasing the Main Street Theater from a private owner. Then, in 2004, when the owner decided to sell, the City of Visalia decided to take the building over under eminent domain to be able to save it as a children’s theatre and to help the Enchanted Playhouse buy the theater for use as a children’s theatre and entertainment venue.”
Unfortunately, the theatre company, a non-profit entity, was unable to purchase the building and continued leasing it from the City in the decade that followed. Now they find themselves having to leave the comforts of home to find temporary space in theaters with smaller seating and space to accommodate all the sets and costumes they’ve accumulated in their long history.
It all started in 2017, when Rainmaker Productions, associated with the Fox Theater, became interested in purchasing the building as an overflow theater. The city, in order to give the opportunity to everyone, started a bidding process which they published in the local paper and on their website, attracting the attention and interest of Legacy Investment Corporation, headed by local businessman and developer, JR Shannon. Rainmaker, was outbid.
Desperate to keep their location, The Enchanted Playhouse board of directors have called upon members of the community for help. Their hope is that the City will reopen the process to allow them to buy the building themselves, and raise the funds to make that purchase happen.
The circumstances of the removal of the playhouse is subject to so much discourse and disappointment by the theatre company and its many fans that I had to get the other side of the story by also interviewing members of the City of Visalia. They were happy to meet with me.
Mayor Gubler of the City of Visalia, expressed his appreciation of the Enchanted Playhouse over the years. “First of all, we love the Enchanted Playhouse. I even participated in an on-stage performance with one of my daughters. Secondly, the lease agreement between the City and the Enchanted Playhouse was before my time. You have to understand the city of Visalia is not in the business of owning property except for the city’s needs such as roads and public parking.”
“We love the Enchanted Playhouse as much as anyone.” Leslie Caviglia, city employee and friend of the Playhouse explained further. “But the Enchanted Playhouse is not a building, it’s a great little theatre [company] which can put on its performances from anywhere.”
If fact, The Enchanted Playhouse has already booked their next performance in October, Once Upon Pandora’s Box, at the Rotary Theater, just in case they are unsuccessful in getting the city council to reopen the bid and raising the necessary funds to make a bid. “We are planning to do some aggressive fundraisers to try get the money to buy the building,” says Shanna. “Our ultimate goal is to stay here. This is our home. We would like to stay here.”
The Playhouse board members want the city to know their value for valley youth. “We have so many at-risk youth here,” says Shanna, “When we do our school performances we bring 14,000 children from all-around Tulare County, Kings County, Kern County, Reedley to watch our shows. A lot of these are communities that might not be able to go to LA and see a show. We have children from Houston Elementary and Kings Canyon Unified that get to see live performances. Scientifically it’s shown that it helps children develop verbal skills, social skills, and higher test scores. That’s something that a lot of children are not offered.”
They also plan to partner more with other community theatre organizations. “We have a lot of local theatres in town. We have Visalia Community Players, The Creative Center, Imagine U; we want to be able to partner with other communities to be able to bring more to the community for the children.”
Don’t worry, the show will go on.
“If for some reason the sale does go through and we’re not able to be here, we still need fundraising to be able to find another place,” continues Shanna. “We have one fundraiser planned already with a performance by the very popular local band, Run For Cover, in the Garden Street Plaza set for October 20.”
Their pleas to the community have caused an outpouring of sympathy and action from members of the Visalia community, ready to come to their rescue. Many fans of the little theatre company, whose children and grandchildren have delighted audiences at this long-held location in the heart of downtown, have already contributed to their website’s Go-Fund-Me account. Many more have planned to attend a rally to be held Monday July 16, at 6 p.m. in front of the Main Street Theater on the day that the board will deliberate on the sale of the building to Legacy; this is followed by a march to the city offices where the city council meeting will take place.
So many people are expected to attend both the rally and the city council meeting that the City has had to exchange the meeting room to one that could accommodate a larger crowd. It will be one of the most important live performances of their lifetime.
If you are interested in helping The Enchanted Playhouse, or to get updates on the the future location, check their website.
The event page for the rally can be found on Facebook. Meeting: @The Convention Center for Enchanted Playhouse
Editor’s Note: All photos were taken by Roger Gong.
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