The biggest impression I took away from Tuesday night's community meeting about the fate of the San Jose Rep is that we're lucky to have a lot of people in Silicon Valley committed to keeping the arts thriving here -- and searching for innovative ways to connect to audiences.
About 150 people showed up for the meeting at San Jose City Hall, and it was noted several times that people were offering constructive ideas for the future instead of pointing fingers about what caused the Rep's collapse and griping about audiences or fundraising. Here are a few things from the meeting worth noting: The San Jose Rep's Blue Box theater downtown is owned by the city, which is also the company's largest creditor with about $1.85 million owed. But the interior furnishings, including lighting and sound equipment belong to the Rep and should be included among its assets in its impending Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The short version is that there are some hoops the city will need to get through to acquire the building intact, but it's working to do just that. Kerry Adams Hapner, the director of the city's office of cultural affairs, says the next step is determining how to operate the 528-seat building and she's hoping to get lots of input on creating that model. Another company could manage it and perform there as the Rep does, or it could move to a "presenting" model the way Broadway San Jose brings in shows for the Center for the Performing Arts. It could also just become a rental facility, as the Mexican Heritage Plaza's theater is currently used.
Theater folks I've talked to say a performing arts company would have a better chance of success if it didn't have to manage the building as well as put on shows. Others think it would be bad if the "presenting" or "rental" models ultimately favored touring shows over homegrown productions. But mostly, a lot of people would like to just see the building reactivated as soon as possible to keep the theater from turning into a black hole that sucks surrounding businesses into its abyss. When it comes to growing the performing arts scene, many voices were in favor of encouraging nontraditional performing arts models. Audiences are packing shows by San Jose Stage and City Lights, they said, so why not follow that example instead of San Francisco's ACT and the Berkeley Rep? "Affordable" and "family friendly" were words that came up a lot, too.
Susan Krane, the executive director of the San Jose Museum of Art, may have summed it up best. "What we need here are things that make San Jose genuine," she said. "We need to be more than just another pit stop for shows."
Contact Sal Pizarro at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/spizarro.