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THEATER NEWS : A Moving Situation : The light opera company's interest in a new venue could lead to a fuller drama calendar in downtown Santa Barbara.


The Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera is tentatively planning a move from the Lobero Theatre to a renovated Granada Theatre for its 1992-93 season.

And though the move may force patrons of the company to recalibrate their homing devices, it could eventually lead to a fuller theatrical calendar in downtown Santa Barbara.

The light opera company, which counts roughly 40% of its 14,500-member subscriber base among Ventura County residents, has made no official move announcement. But SBCLO Executive Producer Paul Iannaccone spilled the beans on Feb. 2 at an open rehearsal for the group's new production, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."

In one of the free-associative curtain speeches that have become something of an SBCLO signature, Iannaccone told a surprised audience of 189 sponsors that the company was negotiating a rental agreement with Metropolitan Theatres Corp., which owns the Granada.

The move would be permanent, signaling the end of an era for the SBCLO, which has presented Broadway musical revivals at the Lobero on East Canon Perdido since the company's origin in 1984.

The company's interest in a new venue was prompted in part by an impending one-to-two-year closure of the Lobero for structural renovation to meet earthquake safety codes. Originally scheduled for next year, the renovation has been postponed until the 1993-94 season.

But the postponement came after the SBCLO had already begun negotiating with Metropolitan to use the Granada for its next season, which will include productions of "Gypsy," "Brigadoon," "The Pirates of Penzance" and "Guys and Dolls."

The Granada, located on State Street a few blocks away from the Lobero, offers superior acoustics and sight lines, an orchestra pit, expanded wing and fly space, and a larger seating capacity--900 seats, compared to the 600-seat Lobero. And it retains the intimate dimensions and feel of a small, traditional Broadway house.

The SBCLO plan for the new venue, as described by Iannaccone, is to schedule productions for shorter runs, accommodating larger audiences per performance. The company aims to make the change, Iannaccone said, without raising ticket prices.

Because the Granada has operated exclusively as a movie theater since 1985, it will be a costly proposition to make the facility suitable for live performance.

No figures have been disclosed, but sources close to the SBCLO-Metropolitan negotiations report that preliminary cost estimates of $1.5 million to $2.5 million for a complete historic restoration are being discussed. Responsibility for renovation costs is apparently one of the issues under negotiation, though Iannaccone and Metropolitan owner Bruce Corwin last week would confirm only that negotiations were under way.

But while use of the Granada as the SBCLO's replacement venue may still be under negotiation, it's a virtual certainty the company will not be returning to the Lobero next fall.

"As far as we're concerned it's a fait accompli," said Nancy Moore, managing director of the Lobero Theatre Foundation. "The SBCLO formally notified us on Jan. 15 of their decision to release their calendar dates for next season."

Despite the light opera company's status as a longtime tenant, Moore said Lobero officials were "excited" about possibilities the company's departure may open.

"It gives us an opportunity to pursue a direction that's more in line with our artistic goals," Moore said. "The SBCLO was a separate entity that rented the theater. Now we're pursuing a partnership type of relationship with a theater group that will call the Lobero home."

To that end, Moore said, the foundation has solicited proposals from ten performing arts organizations, including several prominent regional theaters that might be interested in a touring circuit for their productions. The prestigious Pasadena Playhouse and the Williamstown Theatre Festival of Massachusetts have already submitted detailed programs for next season, Moore said, and the La Jolla Playhouse has also expressed interest.

Among local organizations approached by the foundation was the Santa Maria-based PCPA Theaterfest, which had already presented a well-received production of "The Crucible" at the Lobero in 1990.

But PCPA Artistic Director Jack Shouse downplayed the possible expansion last week, saying that PCPA has not even put together a formal proposal at this point. "It's always intriguing to consider sharing our work with larger audiences on the Central Coast, but our primary commitment of long standing is still the Solvang Theatre Festival, and any further expansion would have a lower priority," Shouse said.

Laura Zucker, executive director of the Ventura Arts Council, has also been contacted by Lobero officials. Zucker, along with Alan Miller, co-founded the Back Alley Theatre in Los Angeles, which brought its productions of "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?" and "The Fox" to the Santa Barbara area. While the critically acclaimed Back Alley is not currently operating, it still exists in name as a nonprofit company.

The ultimate fate of the Lobero Theatre is not a matter of idle curiosity for Ventura County arts patrons. According to the "Ventura Community Profile," a cultural assessment compiled by AMS Planning & Research in September, 1991, Lobero programs rank third among the cultural events most frequently attended by Ventura County residents. In 1990, only "The Phantom of the Opera" in Los Angeles and rock shows at the Ventura Theatre enjoyed greater popularity.

Times staff writer Don Shirley also contributed to this article.

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