The Kenai Performers are preparing to break ground on two acres of land in Kenai for a soon-to-be, long-awaited permanent home.
Negotiations for the at least 100-seat “black box” theater have been toiled over with the City of Kenai since February, when the performers first appealed for a parcel donation during a council meeting. Now the community group’s focus is on funding the venture.
“We are pinching pennies wherever we can to funnel dollars into this project,” said performers Board of Directors President Sally Cassano.
She hopes doors will open to the new building by September of this year, but admits that may be overly optimistic. Board Vice President Phil Morin said it is more likely the framework will be finished by Thanksgiving and work will start on the inside of the building.
The six-member board is collaborating with Chris Parker of local architecture firm Kluge and Associates to nail down engineering and architectural designs, said Morin. Simultaneously, Kenai City Manager Rich Koch is working to rezone the plat from residential to general commercial. Parker is waiting on civil, survey and structural engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and construction costs estimations, Morin said. Parker will have a timeline estimate for the project, he said.
Kenai will be handing over ownership of the parcel to the performers, Morin said. If the group sells that land in the future, the city will receive the cash from the sale.
“They would be getting value added and their investment back,” Morin said. “So it’s ‘win-win.’”
The performers are set on securing a steadfast space after nearly 50 years as a self-sustaining community group, Cassano said. They are ready to abandon their transient lifestyle to accommodate their ballooning size and progressive artistic direction.
Membership is nearing the 1,000 mark, which includes past and present volunteers. The community crew imagines an “integrated future,” Cassano said.
“Our dream is to have a space where other performing arts can come into that and use it,” Cassano said. “To have that would be just invaluable for the community. It has to be in baby steps though.”
Two years ago that goal was within their grasp.
On Aug. 20, 2013, the performers “took a big hit, pun intended,” when the building they had ready been using as home base was struck by a vehicle. Since, they have bounced from place to place, but kept afloat.
Starting in 2009, Curtain Call Consignment has supplemented the earnings from performances and grants that keep the group going, Cassano said. The vast majority of that money is going toward leasing space in the old PAC building on Kalifornsky Beach Road, she said.
The new theater can host an audience of up to 150, which will generate the revenue the performers will need to expand and evolve into a multifaceted facility, Cassano said.
Eventually, the building will have a moveable stage, a spot for musical performances such as an orchestra, and be versatile enough to make the switch from putting on a center stage performance to a roundtable dinner theater if the situation calls for it, Cassano said.
Board member Terri Burdick said she is looking forward to the positive effects of an adaptable arena.
“You have a more personal relationship with the audience,” Burdick said. “There is more remand.”
The performers are holding a work “party,” Wednesday, from noon to 4 p.m., Cassano said, when every prop, top and gown being stored in warehouses around the Central Kenai Peninsula will be moved into the rented room that is month-to-month.
It would be hard pinching pennies any tighter.
There is so much that goes into “a night of entertainment for this community,” Cassano said. Actors, producers, ticket sales, advertising, creating paraphernalia, lighting, music and the list goes on for the moving parts and people it takes to pull off a performance, she said.
“Kenai saw the contribution the performers make to the health and growth of this community,” Cassano said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com.