Projections for the 2015 Music Circus production of Hair were created by Adam Flemming, and show just what the state-of-the-art projection system can add to a show. (Courtesy of Adam Flemming)

Best Seat in the House

California Musical Theatre finds a new way to tell old stories

Back Article Jul 20, 2017 By Jennifer Newman

Those who have seen past California Musical Theatre productions of Beauty and the Beast were in for a treat this year: The “tale as old as time” is decidedly new and improved thanks to a recent influx of grant money from the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.

The one-time facilities and capital improvement grant was funded with City of Sacramento parking revenue from Lots X & Y in downtown. Originally, the parking revenue was set to go directly into the City’s general fund, but instead was set aside to create a grant giving opportunity through SMAC.

While several organizations were granted funds through the process, $39,000 was awarded to California Musical Theatre to match funds they had put toward the purchase and installation of a new state-of-the-art projection system. The system aims to add a distinct visual element to the in-the-round productions for which the theater company is known, and the system will be installed and maintained by local talent through Sacramento’s Stagehands Union.

According to City of Sacramento Convention & Cultural Services Director Jody Ulich, whose department oversees SMAC, the funding was set aside specifically for improvements like those California Musical Theatre was looking to make.

“From looking at the grant application, it was very well written and very clear what it was that they were trying to accomplish,” Ulich says. The theater company also successfully articulated how they would match the funds — a requirement of the grant. “They have a track record, so we know when we’re granting funds to an organization like this that it is a good investment.” She adds that when organizations like these receive grant money that helps keep them operating at their highest level, the community benefits through job creation and greater access to well-funded arts programs.

California Musical Theatre Producing Artistic Director Scott Klier says the projection system creates infinite possibilities for how the stories are told in the theater. The equipment allows for visuals (such as video and still animations) to be projected on the theater walls. According to Klier, the system also allows the production team to have more fluidity in how they stage a show; for example, if a projection isn’t working right on on opening night, it’s much easier to change it out than to create new physical props or set designs.

“When we’ve produced the show before, we were only able to tell [the opening scenes] in a very crude way, [using] poster banners that were held by actors in the aisles of the surrounding theater,” he says. “Now we’ll be able to fully animate it and each section and will get the very same perspective on that pre-show tale that lays the groundwork for what the next two hours has in store.”

Ulich notes the uniqueness of this type of grant, “It was decided by council that this would be dedicated to essentially facilities grants or capital improvement grants which is a very rare kind of grant to get,” she says. “It’s capacity building for an organization, in that they now have an opportunity to actually invest into their capital structure. So for us to be able to do that was just priceless in my opinion.”