For half a century at least, Santa Clara supported performing groups with deep ties to the City — even in years when the City had deficits. But all that changed this year.
Although a vociferous public outcry saved the Roberta Jones Junior Theater from the chopping block, the proposed budget also axes grants (about $15,000 cumulatively) for Santa Clara Ballet, Santa Clara Chorale and Santa Clara Players (also founded by Roberta Jones).
As with the RJJT, the City didn’t advise the Ballet and the Players about the cuts, leaving them to discover the cuts on their own in the 659-page Santa Clara operating budget. The cuts represent about five 1,000ths — 0.05 percent — of the $29 million deficit. But for two of these groups those grants are critical.
Curtains for Santa Clara’s Original Sugar Plum Fairies?
Santa Clara’s budget cuts may finally give the diabolical three-headed Mouse King victory over the doughty Nutcracker in the holiday classic of the same name, shutting down a 45-year run for the Santa Clara Ballet’s annual production, featuring professional soloists and
By cutting funding for the 45-year-old Santa Clara Ballet’s annual performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, the City is likely shutting down an easily accessible professional production of the show in Santa Clara, a show that generations of dancers and families have participated in and countless residents have enjoyed.
The ballet’s grant has been steadily cut by two-thirds in recent years, and last year’s minimal grant only covered the cost of the Nutcracker performance at the Betty Hangs Theater in the Santa Clara Convention Center.
Without this support, it’s hard to see how the company will put on a show this year, as the other ballet venue in town, Wilcox High School theater — aka Santa Clara Center for the Performing Arts — is rarely accessible to the community, despite the City’s subsidy of its construction.
As the only professional, exclusively ballet school in Santa Clara, Santa Clara Ballet offers professional teaching and performance opportunities close to home. Reyes and her late husband made Santa Clara home when they decided to start their own school.
Founder and Director Josefa Reyes still taught every day in the studio until the pandemic, and received a 2011 Isadora Duncan award for sustained achievement.
Generations of families have studied with Reyes and participate in the holiday show. Her son, Andre Reyes, returns to Santa Clara to perform in the annual Nutcracker, as well as his children.
Reyes stresses the value of a small, community school for young dancers. “The right training, early on, is very important in ballet,” she said.
“Because for us this is family, we give each and every student’s development personal attention. The discipline, the beauty and the satisfaction have a permanent impact in their lives. They learn to work together on shows.” Some of Reyes’ students have gone on to become soloists in national companies or start their own ballet schools.
The loss of its performing venue comes on the heels of another blow to Santa Clara Ballet. The company also lost the lease on its studio this year — Reyes was given two month’s notice to leave its home of 45 years.
Finding a new home isn’t easy, Reyes said.
“Commercial areas don’t allow children because of the liability,” she said. Combined with the loss of the Ballet’s performing venue, “If I don’t have the building, I don’t have anything,” said Reyes, who said she feels like she’s fighting a “losing battle.”
One of South Bay’s Oldest Theater Companies Hangs On — For Now
In its intimate 71-seat theater-in-the-round, Santa Clara Players brings local audiences 11 performances of three — sometimes four — productions a year every year, with ticket prices that don’t top $15.
And it has done so since 1961, making it one of the oldest South Bay theater companies in continuous operation. Also founded by the legendary Roberta Jones, the City has given the company an annual grant covering 20 percent of its budget every year until now, and gives it the use of the theater on the Triton grounds — the Players maintain the theater.
With no shows in 2020, the company still has its 2019/2020 grant. With play already licensed from last year and a repurposed stage set, if all goes well, the theater will open its doors to audiences for the first time in a year and a half on Oct. 22.
For President and Managing Director George Doeltz, the Players is a labor of love. Doeltz has been with the Players for 21 years after working 10 years with the Roberta Jones Junior Theatre.
He already had enough on his plate before the pandemic hit.
After the state legislature passed AB 5 in 2019 mandating that all workers that were part of an entity’s core business had to be W-2 employees; the Players’ directors, stage managers and box office staff now have to be paid hourly salaries instead of fees and stipends, in addition to employer taxes and income tax withholding.
All of this increases paperwork without any more money to pay for the added hours of work.
Adding to Doeltz’s headaches, the Santa Clara Fire Dept. decided the theater’s lighting wiring was no longer acceptable. “It has been this way for 35 years,” said Doeltz, and they never noticed before?” Doeltz himself did the rewiring work — in addition to all the other jobs he does that aren’t listed on his job description.
“We will probably weather this,” he said. The question remains, though, what comes after?
Longtime Arts Grants Don’t “Align” to “Strategic Priorities”
The Weekly asked the City the rationale for cutting Junior Theatre and Arts grants, the explanation provided some insight into how the City calculates benefit: “The proposed budget aligns to strategic priorities set by the Council,” the City wrote in a statement in response to the proposed Junior Theatre cuts. The other arts grants that were cut weren’t even mentioned.
The City’s statement expressed confidence that recreation department programs were sufficient cultural activity for the community.
“The City can continue to offer residents a broad range of arts programming,” the statement continues, “that includes music, dance, singing, painting, acting, musical theater classes and performance opportunities through the City’s [the Recreation Center’s] annual Nutcracker performances that serve broader audiences at a lower cost to the City.”