Arts & Theater

Skip the script: Sofia Soiree will improvise a good time to raise money for kids

U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui of Sacramento speaks with Buck Busfield, the B Street Theatre’s producing artistic director.
U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui of Sacramento speaks with Buck Busfield, the B Street Theatre’s producing artistic director.

Nonprofits run fundraisers all the time, but B Street Theatre’s upcoming night of cocktails and appetizers will also make ticket holders the producers, creators and playwrights of a one-night-only play produced by a crew of trained improvisers and actors.

The Sofia, Sacramento’s newest theater space and home to B Street Theatre, is set to transform Nov. 16 for the inaugural Sofia Soiree, raising money for the theater’s youth education programs.

Two years into the move from its original home on B St. to the $29 million complex on 2700 Capitol, B Street Theatre is getting used to its new digs – two different stages seating 365 and 250, an in-lobby restaurant and bar, and residents like The Sacramento Ballet.

Founder and producing artistic director Buck Busfield called the learning curve “tremendous” in size.

“You have to keep HVAC going in a building that’s 20 times bigger than the other one,” Busfield said. “You have to staff, and schedule. It’s been a challenge, but we’re feeling better.”

B Street was initially founded in 1986 as Theater for Children Inc., a touring theater company that still operates as part of B Street.

Lloyd Levine, former state assemblyman and co-chair of the soiree, said most people don’t realize the impact of B Street’s educational programs, which expose an estimated 200,000 children to theater each year.

“We are one of the largest arts education organizations west of the Mississippi River,” Levine said. “Many of those kids wouldn’t have any access to live theater for work for the programs that we offer.”

Levine said discussions about how fundraisers would work at The Sofia began about 18 months ago, and the name “Sofia Soiree” first appeared five to six months ago, when planning began.

The end result is planned to be an event that is uniquely B Street, according to Busfield, Levine and fellow co-chair Lainie Josephson – drinks, hors d’oeuvres and an improvised play influenced by the audience.

As Levine describes it, the acting troupe will enter the audience during the champagne and appetizers portion of the night to garner material for the “Build a Play” process. The troupe will then disappear backstage to prepare for a fully improvised play, with wardrobe, lighting and music.

“They’re not going back there and writing a script,” Levine said. “45 minutes to an hour’s worth of production and you’ll be blown away at the quality. The audience gets a chance to be part of the event, help build it and see the fruit of their labor.”

The soiree will also include an auction with exclusive prize packages like a complete buyout of the theater, a walk-on role in a production and the “100-foot staycation,” which includes a night’s stay at a local hotel, dinner at famed Sacramento restaurant Biba, and tickets to a B Street show.

After 18 months of conceptualizing and six months of planning, organizers are excited for what they hope will turn into a yearly event for a theater finally growing accustomed to its new assets.

“Things are looking pretty darn good right now,” Busfield said. “Everything’s getting better attended and people are learning. We still have a lot of folks that haven’t been here.”