In cities across the country big and small, new artistic energies have often found focus in abandoned industrial districts, where fine old buildings with lots of space offer opportunities for lofts, studios and performance venues, plus the people-oriented businesses that come to surround them.
Now and again the old Creamery in Arcata, in the largely depopulated and marginal area west of K Street, has suggested this potential. It hosts the Arcata Ballet, DanceCenter and New World Youth Ballet, with spaces for rehearsal, classes and performances. Years ago, the legendary Pacific Arts Center Theatre began here. Still, it hasn't reached the critical mass to transform the area into a familiar audience destination.
But there are signs that may be changing - specifically, a new sign in front saying "Arcata Playhouse," and new paint being applied to the foyer last week from a tall ladder to which is affixed a small red teddy bear.
Though the fresh paint outside and inside is only the first step in the planned transformation, this venue's potential is being suggested and perhaps tested with a gala opening event this Saturday, featuring local luminaries such as Rudi Galindo, Jeff DeMark, Joyce Hough and Fred Neighbor, and hosted by the couple that comprises one-third of the partnership attempting to create a viable and affordable playhouse for theatre, music and other forms of performance, with a family emphasis and a community reach.
They are Jackie Dandeneau and David Ferney, whose Four on the Floor Productions is partnering with Shoebox Puppet Company (Corey Stevens, owner of Muddy's Hot Cup) and Vagabond Players, which most recently operated the space as the Stargarden Theatre.
Pacific Arts Center Theatre had spawned Vagabond, which struggled on after PACT faded away, but, true to its name, it was homeless in 2005 when Carole Wolfe, its volunteer artistic director, called the Creamery looking for storage space. Instead she found Vagabond's new home, in the same place where PACT had begun some 30 years before. Other groups also used the space (including Four on the Floor) but this summer Vagabond had fallen several months behind in the rent. That's when Dandeneau and Ferney put together the partnership and became the venue's managers. Now all three enterprises - Four on the Floor, Shoebox Puppets and Vagabond - have a home, and the rent is split three ways.
Ferney and Dandeneau are Dell'Arte people. Ferney graduated from its school about 20 years ago, and became a member of the locally famous family comic acrobatic troupe, Los Payasos Mendigos. The troupe traveled far and wide, which is how he met Dandeneau at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, where she was with a traveling feminist sketch comedy group called Full Figure Theatre. "We would hook up in New Zealand, and hang out together in England," Ferney recalled. "Meanwhile, I was living in San Francisco and she was in Vancouver. Finally we realized we would either have to shack up or call it quits." They chose the former, moved to Pender Island between Vancouver and Victoria, started a small theatre company and a family. Then Dell'Arte called, and hired them both.
They recently began branching out to produce shows through Four on the Floor, which brought them to the Stargarden Theatre, and to the managing partnership of the Arcata Playhouse. Noting the couple's professional experience, Ferney said, "I'm interested in exploring a hybrid of professional and community theatre."
Upgrading the space is a major goal. "Getting a decent lighting and sound system, some decent drapes, figuring out the best seating arrangement," Ferney said. "Corey is a great partner because he just took over that café, and he's really interested in getting concessions together, and taking care of all that. So we want to elevate the venue and make it a happening place in Arcata."
"I'm excited," Carole Wolfe professed in the Playhouse lobby, paint roller in hand. "There's all this new energy - it's fun again!"
The Playhouse is going forward with a performance later this month by Mookie Cornish (Cirque du Soleil clown and Dell'Arte grad) and the Faust Mask Works from Toronto in May. Synapsis, which is temporarily displaced from its Eureka home, is one of what they hope will be many local groups to perform here. David and Jackie talked enthusiastically about the possibilities, especially for family-oriented shows and filling community needs, such as a place for young people and seniors to hold performance events. But they're also thinking of adult theatre - the kind the Pacific Arts Center Theatre used to do. "I've met a lot of people who are really excited about the rejuvenation of the old PACT space," Jackie said. "I'd like to do a PACT-style show, with some of the actors who were involved in it."
"You know, pretty much anything is possible, once you've got the space," David observed. "You might be thinking, 'Oh, I've always wanted to do Ionesco's Rhinoceros, so why not?"
On Saturday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m., "Club Shampoo", a cabaret-style evening hosted by Jacqueline Dandeneau and David Ferney celebrates the Grand Opening of the Arcata Playhouse in the Old Creamery Building at 9th and K. Performers include Rudi Galindo, Joyce Hough and Fred Neighbor, Jeff DeMark, Jaese Lecuver, The Metaboleres, Tim Gray, Maria Joy, Tim Randles, Guys Mostly Tango Band and the Arcata debut of the all-girl band from Blue Lake, The Brendas. Though the names may be familiar, they're likely to be performing new material. Proceeds go toward improving the Playhouse. Admission is $10, and there's a cash bar. Reservations are strongly recommended. Call 668-9759, ext. 2.