Barn Raising

In the North Bay, where two venerable theater groups have recently lost their homes, and where other theater failures seem imminent or possible, one little company in Napa is doing something unthinkable. They are building a new theater from scratch.

“We’re really not crazy!” laughs Taylor Bartolucci, cofounder of Lucky Penny Theater Co., which this weekend officially opens the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center with a two-weekend run of Lionel Bart’s moody musical Oliver!

The center—complete with an 85-seat theater, rehearsal and dressing rooms, costume and scenery shops, and more—is a former kitchen tile store, now receiving its final, transformative touches before the Thursday-night opening.

“This building is happening because it has to happen,” explains Bartolucci, who’s directing Oliver! along with Lucky Penny co-founder Barry Martin. Citing the closure of the Napa Valley Playhouse last year on the heels of the Opera House’s transformation into the mostly musical City Winery venue, Bartolucci and Martin—who created Lucky Penny in 2009 and have performed at the above venues and a few others—realized that no affordable options were left for theater artists seeking a place to stage a show in Napa.

“This was always in the back of our mind, to eventually have our own venue,” says Bartolucci. “But now we feel we have to build our own theater, because we simply won’t have a theater company anymore if we don’t.”

“Before we committed to this place,” says Martin, gesturing across the sawdust-covered room to where dressing room walls are being framed and sheetrocked, “we talked to every conceivable other venue in the area. We talked to owners of vacant buildings. We talked to schools. We talked to everyone. And nothing else made sense.”

The cost of the renovation is estimated at $200,000, over half of which has already been raised through private donations and fundraising events. And the closer the new facility comes to opening, the more Bartolucci says she can feel the community’s excitement rising.

“People see this space and they see the progress we’ve made, and they are floored!” she says. “They say, ‘Oh, wow! You’re really doing this!’ Yes we are! Look at the history of Lucky Penny. When we say we’re going to do something, we pretty much always do it.”

“And this time,” says Martin, “we’re not just doing it to put on one show. We’re building something that will be a resource for the whole community for years to come.”