A visitor to Redwood City will encounter signage proudly proclaiming its theater district, yet the two resident companies that put the theater in the district are not operating out of downtown buildings.
Play presenter Dragon Productions is closing its physical doors 2120 Broadway at the end of the month and will live nomadically. Broadway by the Bay, at the historic Fox Theatre since 2011, held its last performances there in November 2019.
A producer of popular, large-cast musicals since the 1960s, Broadway by the Bay — BBBay to its friends and fans — had its most recent production, “The Sound of Music,” close literally the day before it opened at a temporary location at the College of San Mateo, when the then-new COVID regulations suspended all public gatherings in March 2020.
“Our long-term venue partnership ended because the new owners (of the Fox) have different priorities for their venue,” Alicia Jeffrey, BBBay executive artistic director, offered retrospectively on the unexpected change of venue.
During the COVID-enforced hiatus, Jeffrey has been examining and refining her own priorities and those of BBBay.
“We just slammed on the brakes. The combination of impacts with both the pandemic and all the increased consciousness of racial justice inspired us to seize this opportunity to completely rewrite the purpose of the company.”
Unencumbered by overhead obligations and switching from a small paid staff to an entirely volunteer-driven model has opened new possibilities.
She describes BBBay as having “always operated like a for-profit company on a nonprofit model. We didn’t own our theater, we don’t have municipal partnerships, and we don’t have a lot of the bedrock resources that other community theater companies have that offset their costs or allow them to monetize in a different way.”
More personally, she said, “I learned that I no longer wanted my passion and my paycheck to be living in the same place. Having theater be my paid job switched the paradigm to ‘This is your job, and you have to do this’ from ‘This is your passion, and you want to do this.’ Disconnecting those factors really reinvigorated my passion, literally at the decision point.”
Now, with evolving news on the COVID continuum, BBBay will likely not re-emerge in a significant way until 2022.
“I’ve revised my risk profile, and to try to create theater on a main stage at this point, with all the unknowns we have, feels like poor stewardship of donations we have received.”
Finding the right venue will be key to BBBay’s future. “We’re working to establish a new venue partnership with a community-based organization who wants to really partner with us on the impact that having us there can make on a community,” Jeffrey says, adding, “I don’t feel like we have to solve that, though, before it’s the right time to solve it.”
For more information about Broadway by the Bay, go to bbbay.org.