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Peninsula Youth Theatre will downsize to stay in Mountain View after rent hike

 

Peninsula Youth Theatre will keep its longtime home on Old Middlefield Way after all, by giving up one of its studios in order to afford a steep rent increase that threatened to displace Mountain View's longtime youth theater.

Acknowledging that zoning restrictions and high costs in the area left them with few places to go, the theater's staff and board of directors agreed to stay put and bear the burden of the rent hike, according to a statement released by Karen Simpson, the executive director of Peninsula Youth Theatre, or PYT.

Since the 1990s, PYT has hosted productions, camps and classes serving thousands of children and teens each year, drawing participants from up and down the Peninsula and from cities in the South Bay and East Bay. It has deep roots in Mountain View as one of two home companies with the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, and operates a 10-week school play program at local schools.

In April, PYT announced that the ownership of its studio property at 2500 Old Middlefield Way had changed hands, and with it came an unaffordable 45% rent increase. PYT would either have to move or try to offset the costs with an ongoing facilities campaign that generated $75,000 a year.

Simpson told parents and supporters in an email last week that the theater's leadership made the "extremely difficult decision" to give up 1,000 square feet of the facility known as Studio B. The ancillary stage is used for by the Stories on Stage program and provides valuable real estate for storing props, sound equipment and set pieces -- all of which will need to be relocated, sold or thrown away.

It's a tough pill to swallow, Simpson told the Voice, but it's better than the alternative. PYT is inextricably tied to Mountain View, running 16 to 20 camps in the city this summer, doing shows at the Center for Performing Arts and drawing help from a pool of local volunteers.

Given the challenges of zoning and the cost of renting commercial space, the closest place PYT could move would have been Santa Clara, Simpson said, which was simply too far away. And that doesn't include the high cost of renovating a property into a studio fit for large-scale rehearsals.

"It just made more sense to stay where we are," she said.

The plan currently is for a dance school to rent out Studio B, which is a good fit for the space and shouldn't conflict with the theater, Simpson said. The lost space does include one of the three bathrooms off of the lobby.

"It's nothing insupportable," she said. "It will be the same PYT, you will have the same experience, but you might have to walk further to get to the bathroom."

Revamping schedules to accommodate rehearsals in the main studio shouldn't be a problem, Simpson said, but the real challenge is removing all the stuff that's built up in Studio B over the last 25 years. Costumes are mostly housed off site, but PYT has built up an extensive mix of specialty props, thousands of photos and tubs of things like gloves, stockings and rehearsal skirts.

First to go will be the large props used for specific performances. That 25-foot-tall Christmas tree for "Annie" productions is taking up a lot of space, Simpson said, and in all likelihood PYT can just borrow one when the time comes. A butter churn may not be the most versatile prop either, so that might be on the short list of things to dump.

"We get a specialty prop for one show -- someone says you need to have a brown leather chair -- and it gets buried in the back because there aren't a lot of shows where we need it."

Some stuff isn't going anywhere, though. The tub full of hand-made clovers used for the performance "Seussical" took way too much time and effort to make to throw away, and PYT is keeping those, Simpson said.

The goal is to have Studio B cleared out for the new tenant by September, which is a tall order as PYT is a busy place during the summer. Along with 40 summer camps across Silicon Valley, the performance of the show "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" just debuted last Thursday, and Simpson said she's busy managing rehearsals for "Aladdin" as well.

During negotiations with the landlord and the news of the 45% rent hike, PYT launched a fundraising campaign. Though a deal was reached to give up Studio B, the theater will still have to pay an additional $4,000 a month starting in September. The campaign is ongoing, and PYT supporters are encouraged to donate.

It's still up in the air whether there will be a formal auction for old photos and some of the props, but there are some small-scale sales being managed over social media. Mr. Bun, who debuted in the "Shrek" performance, is going in the dumpster unless someone wants him, Simpson said.

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