True to the old theater saying, the show must go on in San Juan Capistrano.
Camino Real Playhouse President Leslie Eisner recently announced the community theater will eventually move to a new location. The move is expected to happen because of plans to turn the Playhouse’s current location on El Camino Real into a parking garage and office/retail space.
An anonymous donor has offered to buy a new building for the Playhouse to use, Eisner told the theater’s supporters on Sunday, Jan. 22.
“There are only two conditions: we must stay in San Juan Capistrano, and we must raise the money to retrofit a building into a theatre,” Eisner said.
No specific location has been named yet. Eisner declined to say how much money the donor offered.
Eisner is asking Playhouse supporters and the community to donate, which can be done at caminorealplayhouse.org.
“We’re asking you, as patrons of this Playhouse, as citizens of San Juan Capistrano, as lovers of the performing arts and as concerned neighbors, to help us,” she said. “The management team here at Camino Real Playhouse vows to put in the long hours and hard work necessary, but for the Playhouse to survive, we need your help at levels we have never asked for before.”
“While we shop for a building, we have been meeting with realtors, architects, and spoken with city officials,” Eisner continued. “With permit and architectural fees, construction costs of turning an office building into a theatre, signage and moving costs, we will need to raise well over one million dollars—$1.5 million, to be exact, by our architect’s account.”
The City of San Juan Capistrano has agreed to sell the current Playhouse property to local developer Dan Almquist, who is behind the plans to revamp the site for parking and business use.
Almquist is also looking to bring about a new performing arts center separate from the Playhouse. An exact location for the new center has not been settled on yet, though a spot near the El Camino Real site and Historic Town Center Park has been floated.
Almquist is working on securing enough necessary funding for the performing arts center.
The current Playhouse building will eventually be torn down to make way for the redevelopment. The Playhouse must vacate the El Camino Real location by June 2024.
“There are plans to build a performing arts center. However, that center will provide a content very different from what we provide as a community theater,” Eisner said. “They will not compete with us, but rather be complementary. So, between the two venues, we can present a full array of theatrical and other entertainment to the community.”
The 2023-24 season will mark the last such one for the Playhouse in the El Camino Real building. Upcoming shows for this year include Strangers on a Train, Over the River and Through the Woods and It Runs in the Family.
Camino Real Playhouse has faced another challenge over the past few years when it had to temporarily halt live performances due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We withstood over a year with no shows or income due to the pandemic, and we withstood a challenging economy, enough to make most volunteer organizations give up,” Eisner said. “If you know anything about our team here at the Playhouse, you know that we have no intention of backing down now. We may be small, but we are mighty.”
When explaining the history of the Playhouse, Eisner said founders BJ and Tom Scott convinced the City of San Juan 34 years ago to rent the building to the Playhouse for $100 a year.
“They signed a 25-year lease, and Tom Scott and a group of volunteers converted this space into a main stage and black box theater where tens of thousands have enjoyed hundreds of productions,” Eisner said. “When you walk the hallway, you see the cast photos going all the way back to the beginning, and it reminds you of the spectacular shows that you’ve experienced here.”
Eisner further said most community theaters are “nonprofit entities” and exist “only by a staff that volunteers their time, patrons that purchase tickets, and generous donors who invest in their community through us.”