Coachella Valley Repertory, the desert’s only Actors’ Equity theater, is currently enjoying its 10th anniversary. And to celebrate, they have gifted the community with an amazing new playhouse in Cathedral City, which Founding Artistic Director Ron Celona — despite having just opened his inaugural production in the space, the musical Chess — was kind enough to take me on a recent tour.
The building, which CVRep purchased in January 2018, was originally built as an IMAX theater but for the past decade or so has been used by the nearby Mary Pickford Theatre. Converting the building from a movie palace to a state-of-the-art live theater took a year. And the results, designed by John Sergio Fisher, a Los Angeles–based architect with more then 300 theaters to his credit, are stunning.
The lobby has been completely redone, from the restrooms and the concession stand to the box office and the lighting, and includes a Producers Club, a private lobby for donors who give $5,000 or more to the company. There’s also a rear entrance that didn’t exist before, which comes with wide steps to accommodate walkers and a lift for disabled patrons.
CVRep has gone from a theater of just over 80 seats in Rancho Mirage to more than 200 in Cathedral City.
Originally two levels, the auditorium was completely gutted on the bottom. “We went down to the surface of the foundation,” Celona says. “We then went under the foundation and put in plumbing and electricity. Once that was done, we started building from the ground up, so to speak.”
The lobby area has had a complete facelift.
First up were the dressing rooms and green room, which are quite luxurious. “We have two dressing rooms,” Celona says. “One is bigger than the other but both come with a bathroom and a shower.” The dressing rooms and green room are equipped with monitoring systems and speakers so performers can see and hear what’s happening onstage at all times.
Two stairwells and an elevator lead from the basement to the back of the stage. The American Disabilities Act–approved elevator is slow but silent, allowing it to be used during performances.
The dressing rooms with monitoring systems and speakers so performers can see and hear what’s happening onstage at all times.
The stage, also built from scratch, was, according to Celona, the project’s biggest expense because “the building was not built to hold the weight of a rigging system. We essentially had to build a building within a building.” A rigging system consists of an over-hanging truss from which sets, lighting, curtains, and the like can be raised or lowered with the push of a button.
“We are only one of a couple of theaters in the desert with a fly system,” Celona says. “But to support the weight of it” — the rigging system as well as the various motors necessary to run it — “the stage had to be built with huge beams underneath.”
The auditorium boasts a new sound booth and technologically advanced sound system. “We also created a lighting booth inside the old projection booth,” Celona says. “It’s all brand new equipment.”
Celona is quick to point out that a massive undertaking like this one doesn’t happen by itself. “The project was completed because of a very dedicated board of directors. The construction was led by [CVRep executive committee member] Mike Monachino, who donated his expertise and time for a whole year to oversee the construction. That was a major commitment. Plus our board president, Joe Giarrusso, is literally like an executive director. He works day in and day out, donating his retired time to CVRep. And then, of course, there are the donors. We are very grateful to have such generous people in the community.”
Also generous are the views of the stage. Compared to the enormity of the rest of the space, the auditorium is unexpectedly intimate. The seats, a gift to CVRep from the Pickford, provide perfect access to the action — each and every one of them. “Size-wise, the stage is that of a 600- to 800-seat venue,” Celona says. “It’s 2,700 square feet. Our audience is only 208 seats, so every one of them is an orchestra seat. When people say they’ll miss the intimacy [of our previous theater], I tell them the stage here is practically sitting in their lap.”