B Street Theatre is acting like the jazz musicians its producing director, Buck Busfield, enjoys listening to so much. The company is looking back, celebrating its history and heritage, with the current holiday production, but also keeping its eyes firmly fixed on the future as it moves forward.
The new production “Not In the Stars” was first written by Busfield in 1995 when B Street was desperately trying to hold on to its modest theater space. Now it is focusing on building a new theater home, which it believes can be up and running in early 2016.
“Not In the Stars” continues the B Street tradition of a new holiday play written each year by Busfield, but for the first time the play is not entirely new. It was first done as a one-act play in 1995 with the original cast of Kurt Johnson, Elisabeth Nunziato and David Pierini, who all reprise their roles in the new production.
“It was originally a one-act, an intern showcase back during Kurt’s class,” Busfield said. “It did very well, and it’s had success wherever its been done, and it’s been done more throughout the country than any of my other shows.”
The romantic comedy sustained the theater during “a life-threatening financial crisis” that year.
“Dave, Elisabeth, Kurt and I got together, and we said, ‘Why don’t we remount this play?’ I won’t take a royalty and the actors won’t get paid, and we did it as a fundraiser for three weeks, and it just really really brought a lot of cash in, so that was very cool,” Busfield said.
Busfield said he had often thought about writing a second act for the piece. After talking to company member actor-writer Pierini about it, they decided it could work. “It’s two mirror-image one acts about one night with these same characters,” Busfield said.
The writer-director said the hardest part about revisiting the 18-year-old piece was looking at the humor and realizing it had faded some.
“Man, some of those jokes. I can’t believe they’re so pushed,” Busfield said. “I’ve been cutting them down and trying to contemporize them. There’s definitely a shelf life on comedy.”
There’s an irony in the company revisting a time it was strapped for cash to make it day to day, because now B Street is in the final fundraising stages for a $25 million theater at 27th Street and Capitol Avenue. Actors such as Pierini, Nunziato and Johnson are still intimately involved, but now they give curtain speeches before performances, asking the audiences to help finance the new theater.
“The acting company has raised a quarter of million dollars in 10 weeks,” Busfield said. “People are tired of hearing me ask for money, but they can’t say no to these guys.”
Managing director Bill Blake, who is spearheading the new theater effort, said the grass-roots efforts of the company impress donors and sponsors. Still B Street is searching for a significant gift to jump it toward $4 million.
“We’re trying to find a couple of large naming-rights sponsors,” Blake said. “We’ve done our part of the research, and if somebody wants to know how many people are going to see that name in a year, it’s about 15 million impressions. That’s people driving by, coming to shows, looking at calendar listings. You don’t have to look far to see how that works. The Mondavi Center is kind of that way.”
The timing of the funding is crucial to qualify for a federal tax credit program that could bring the project home with as much as $6 million.
That program looks for projects that will generate a certain level of new employment and return value to the community in terms of services rendered.
“Of course we’re doing that all day long with our youth programming and classes, so it lines up with so many things that they’re looking for,” Blake said.
He and Busfield hope to break ground in late July or August as the extensive Sutter Health expansion wraps up on the block.
Company members won’t just be cooling their heels until then, though, as Busfield has put together another of his long-held dreams: taking the B Street’s “Around the World in 80 Days” to India for 10 days in February. The company reprised the 2004 hit for an even more successful run in 2008.
The original cast will tour, including Pierini and Nunziato, along with actors Michael Stevenson, Greg Alexander and Amy Resnick, sound-effects wizard Willy Busfield, stage manager Jerry Montoya and two understudies.
“I’ve been trying to take a show over there for six or seven years,” said Busfield, whose wife, Mehera, is from India.
“When I was over there I met a guy who produces theater there and we decided we wanted to do something together.”
Busfield chose “80 Days” because it is “really good and portable.”
“It’s something we want to do, but it’s not a money-maker at all,” Busfield said. “It’s just to get ourselves out there on the world stage, have fun and have a trip.”