Upon opening in 2002, the Pear Avenue Theatre and its plucky band of drama enthusiasts quickly learned how to work amid tight constraints -- literally. Their theater, situated in a former North Bayshore industrial garage, was a cramped 1,500-square-foot space. Trying to make room for seating, staging and dressing rooms became a nightly act of improvisation.
"It was like a cozy little living room," said Jeanie Smith, a frequent Pear Theatre director. "I think we managed well even though the space was a real limitation."
In fact, during the Pear's kickoff run of "Mrs. Warren's Profession," one sold-out performance was interrupted by a surprise visit from the fire marshal. The theater troupe was sternly warned they were over the building's 49-person max occupancy. Twelve audience members had to leave at intermission before the show could go on.
It wasn't all bad, Pear enthusiasts recalled. Those audience members who had to leave midway through the show were invited to come back later that night for a second performance of the play's last half.
In the end, the community-theater crowd learned the hard way that their theater's size put a real cap on what they could accomplish artistically. Certain plays with large casts or staging were impractical or downright impossible to pull off. A large-cast musical was all but a pipe dream.
Given that backdrop, it was particularly special time for local theater fans on Saturday when the newly dubbed Pear Theatre debuted its new, much larger, home. About three times the size of the old space, the new black-box theater off La Avenida Avenue provides room for an audience of about 90 as well as a variety of stage setups. Perhaps most important for theater buffs, the new digs represent a dramatic expansion in the repertoire of plays the Pear can stage.
"Before, it was very difficult to do a show with more than 10 people in it -- We could only fit seven people in our dressing room!" said Diane Tasca, the Pear's artistic director. "Given this new space, we can think about all kinds of possibilities."
The calendar for the upcoming year already provides one solid example of how the Pear will make use of this extra space. Next summer, the troupe plans to stage "August: Osage County" with its huge cast and a multi-story stage. Such a production never would have been possible in the old space, Tasca said.
The new space is a serendipitous change for the Pear Theatre. Google acquired ownership of the theater's old space in 2008, and last year the company made clear there were plans to add the site to its growing campus. At the time, the theater and two other tenants still had active leases, so Google ended up relocating those tenants one block away.
Along with more room, the new space has other notable improvements. The Pear now has a separate rehearsal space, a scene shop and larger dressing rooms equipped with their own bathrooms. The theater is taking the opportunity to upgrade other aspects of stagecraft, buying better sound and lighting equipment.
"We hope this will enable us to continue raising the bar, polishing our work and offering fair-priced tickets for our work," Tasca said.
The new Pear Theatre is still being readied for performances. The first production in the new space, "The Walls of Jericho" is set to open on Sept. 18.
More information about the Pear Theatre, now located at 1110 La Avenida Ave. in Mountain View, including its schedule of performances, can be found at thepear.org.