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Parents Lament Loss as Sunnyvale's California Theatre Center Closes

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A celebratory moment in "Most Valuable Player," performed at The California Theatre Center, a soon-to-be-shuttered community theater in Sunnyvale. (Photo: Courtesy of the California Theatre Center)

“Dear Friend of CTC,” begins the post on the California Theatre Center’s Facebook page.

California Theatre Center will be closing its doors, effective August 1, 2017.

After 41 years in the business of offering performances to audiences of over seven million and providing education programs for thousands of students, CTC’s board and senior management, after careful deliberation, have concluded that it is not possible to maintain our quality of services to our community. Escalating costs and limited resources make it unsustainable for the company to continue operation.

Community reaction was immediate and rueful. Here’s one typical comment from Alex Moissis: “How sad! … Our children …  owe their confidence on stage and their communication and team-building skills to their mentors and friends at CTC. Through the program their command of the English language expanded as they became acquainted with wonderful theater works. Our family will never forget CTC.”

Josie Saracino taught kindergarten and first grade for 20 years at Peninsula School in Menlo Park. “All of those years, I brought my kids to the California Theatre Center. A lot of them had never seen a live performance.”

Saracino would build lesson plans around the play. The class would read the book beforehand, and draw their favorite scenes after. “It was so wonderful. I wish they could have found a funder,” Saracino said.

“I’m having trouble finding words to express my sorrow at the loss of this great resource to our educational community,” wrote Kathleen Flynn, a teacher at Ohlone Elementary School in Palo Alto. “I cannot tell you how many wonderful plays our kids saw at CTC and how these talented actors and actresses brought to life so many stories for them…I just don’t see how we can allow this to happen as a community. I’m heart broken.”

From "Peter Rabbit," performed by the California Theatre Center.
From “Peter Rabbit,” performed by the California Theatre Center. (Photo: Courtesy of the California Theatre Center)

The California Theatre Center’s Box Office Manager Diana Burnell wrote KQED to say that the rising cost of living in Silicon Valley led to the closure.


“We have been struggling for years to make ends meet. Essentially, the costs of doing business in Silicon Valley just kept increasing and we were unable to increase income to meet those costs,” Burnell wrote. “We hired full-time actor/teachers and administrators, and being able to pay them a livable wage in Silicon Valley became nigh impossible.”

Not to mention the cost of renting space, and everything else, Burnell says. “The rental costs for our offices, storage, and the theaters we used (including the Sunnyvale Community Center Theatre), as well as other costs such as insurance, set and costume supplies, and hotel costs (when we toured across the western states) kept increasing year after year.”

Burnell added that the Center relied largely on ticket sales and tuition fees, as opposed to donations.

“Changes in field trip policies (bus costs, background checks and other restrictions on parent drivers, car seat laws, among others) had a large impact on the number of tickets we were able to sell for our field trip performances,” Burnell wrote. “Enrollment in our Education programs was also declining, as more theatre programs became available and as more STEM oriented programs arose.”

A scene from "Madeline's Christmas," performed by the California Theatre Center.
A scene from “Madeline’s Christmas,” performed by the California Theatre Center. (Photo: Courtesy of the California Theatre Center)

Sunnyvale Mayor Glenn Hendricks provided this brief statement: “Community theater is a vital part of creative arts in our community and we’re grateful to the California Theatre Center for their dedication to performance over the years.”

Dale Albright, Program Director at Theatre Bay Area in San Francisco, sounded sad over CTC’s news when he spoke to KQED Wednesday. He said he knew many people who have come from the California Theatre Center or went on to work there, including two couples who met at CTC and later married.

“I recognize the impact (the CTC) had on youth and arts education,” Albright said. “They live in a world that’s connected, adjacent to mine.”

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