Thursday, September 13, 2007

Theater 150 Gets Prime Location

Performances moving to site of former funeral home

By Nao Braverman
The spacious downtown building, with high ceilings and stained-glass windows, could soon be staging various theatrical productions by Ojai’s Theater 150.
Chris Nottoli and Deb Norton, artistic directors of the local nonprofit theater company are eager to have a space where they can build a three and a quarter round stage and seat an audience more than twice as large as their current black box theater on 918 E. Ojai Ave. allows.
Pending on the Planning Commission’s approval of a conditional use permit for the property’s change of use, the company hopes to put on Christmas shows in the new location by early December. The lease is still contingent on the permission from the Planning Commission, however, said Jim Exon, owner of the property.
Originally built as a funeral home by the Clausen family, who held memorial services for Ojai residents for 71 years, the space is ideal for theater 150’s needs, said Norton.
The largest room could serve as a professional theater with space to seat 100 to 150 spectators. Another smaller room would fit a black box theater with about 40 audience members, close to the size of Theater 150’s current modest capacity, and giving the intimate feel of the theater’s current productions. Other rooms are the perfect size to host the theater company’s various classes, they said. Nottoli and Norton have even considered putting in a modular dance floor for dance lessons.
After 10 years in their cozy Ojai Avenue start-up venue, just far enough east of downtown Ojai’s center to be off the beaten path, Nottoli and Norton are thrilled to be expanding and moving to a prime location on the corner of Montgomery and Matilija streets.
Several months ago, after struggling to sell the funeral business, Jerry Clausen decided to sell the property to Exon, recognizing that in such a small town a private funeral home was not profitable enough to sustain. Knowing that Exon was a local resident who understood the community’s interests, he said felt comfortable leaving the property in his hands.
“I think the theater is a perfect example of what Ojai needs and wants,” said Exon. He hopes to see the area turn into a center for the arts and envisions the theater bringing more foot traffic to the downtown area, helping boost surrounding local businesses. People can have lunch downtown and then walk to the theater, he said. It could also offer entertainment for guests staying at the Lavender Inn just down the street.
Though the theater will need to make some interior developments to its new location, Nottoli and Norton expect the company to do most of the legwork themselves with the help of volunteers to save costs.
They are considering holding a contest for the new theater’s architectural design.
“We have been told that refurbishing buildings is the new trend in urban architecture, rather than tearing down and rebuilding, “ said Norton. Though the entire remodel is expected to take some time, Norton and Nottoli hope to make the new spot habitable in about three months.
If granted permission from the Planning Commission, Theater 150 will continue to lease the new property with the promise of eventual ownership. Such an arrangement would be a substantial improvement to their current month-by-month lease, said Nottoli.
The new space will be open to the public for viewing on Ojai Day in October. “Eleemosynary” which opens this evening at 8 p.m. may likely be the last chance to see a Theater 150 production in the company’s current intimate quarters before it moves to its new address.
An opening night gala after the first showing of “Eleemosynary” will start immediately after the performance at 10 p.m. at ARTicles gallery at 205 N. Signal St.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How creepy is this. A funeral home now a theater.