Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Funding gap endangers B Street Theater’s next act

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

In his State of the City address last month, Mayor Kevin Johnson cited the construction of a new B Street Theater in midtown as one of several projects that will elevate Sacramento and break ground in 2014.

There is just one problem: A new B Street Theater is far from a sure thing.

With deadlines looming, there is a $8 million funding gap to close before a new B Street Theater can open at 27th Street and Capitol Avenue. A goal of breaking ground in September remains just that – a goal.

There are several reasons why building a new B Street Theater is important in the larger context of Sacramento’s evolution. It can’t be repeated enough that the old state capital, once known as a “cowtown,” is moving forward with many positive developments, including the construction of a new downtown arena.

How does the B Street Theater fit into this picture? Healthy communities invest in themselves and support ventures that promote a sense of place and shared values. Having more public amenities like the B Street dispels old reputations of a region where there is nothing to do. They are part of what attracts people to Sacramento and what keeps people here.

The B Street has been around for nearly 30 years and is a local institution that currently sits near railroad tracks at B and 27th streets. The company does amazing shows, but it’s the theater’s work with schoolkids that makes it an essential entity in the Sacramento region. I saw a show at the theater recently where the story of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad was performed for groups of third-graders.

In an intimate setting, the actors brought to life the era of slavery in the United States and showed the children viewing the play that these were not abstract concepts. They were real events with victims, heroes and a profound history that the children in the audience share.

The theater was completely silent as the actress portraying Tubman spoke directly to the kids, through her character, about what slavery truly was. She showed the kids how children their age or younger were taken from their parents and sold like property on American soil. There was no fidgeting or daydreaming going on during the performance. All of us were moved.

The B Street hopes to replicate such scenes on a larger scale in a new home with two stages in a 45,000-square-feet building next to Cafe Bernardo on Capitol Avenue. The new B Street is a $20 million project where more than 700 performances will take place annually when it’s completed. There is a funding gap of $3 million that cries out for a benefactor to disprove the notion that Sacramento is a place where people are reluctant to invest in the arts. Closing that funding gap could trigger $5 million in federal tax credits that would flesh out the $8 million needed to break ground on the project

It’s not just a theater project. It’s an amenity that helps make Sacramento what it is.