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A newly rebuilt outdoor theater on the Central Coast is set to welcome back the public

Solvang Festival Theater is reopening after a multi-million dollar renovation
Caroline Feraday
Solvang Festival Theater is reopening after a multi-million dollar renovation

If you like the idea of watching a show under the stars, Solvang Festival Theater is reopening after a multi-million dollar renovation project.

The newly rebuilt Solvang Festival Theater is getting the last touches of paint and a final spruce up ahead of the official reopening on Saturday.

It’s the culmination of a $5.3 million project, over nine months, to transform the outdoor theater into one which is more accessible, safer, with better sound and lighting.

"It's really turned this iconic theater into a state of the art amphitheater, that's really the top of its kind in Santa Barbara County," Scott Coe, the Executive Director of Solvang Theaterfest who run the theater, told KCLU.

"The construction started in September of last year and we hit our goals, " said Coe. "We are ready to go and it's going to be exciting."

To finance the renovation, Solvang Theaterfest turned to the community for support, explained Ann Foxworthy Lewellen.

She is the Chair of the Imagine Building the future campaign, which raised the funds — no mean feat during a pandemic which saw the arts very badly hit by closures and a lack of in-person performances.

"It was the community that built this theater in 1974 - not the City, just the citizens who did it. We needed them to back us again. It was a pretty bold move," said Foxworthy Lewellen.

"We knew we didn't have a choice if we want to save the theater, it had to be done. And we knew the community would step up, they love this theater. They recognize it's a jewel here, they don't have to go to Santa Barbara to see professional theater," added Foxworthy Lewellen.

A new higher wall surrounding the theater blends in with the existing architecture to look as though it’s always been there — but, in fact, it is new.

Along with a new sound mixing desk, new lighting, accessibility ramps and all new seating, explained board member Chris Nielsen.

"It's pretty special because there's not a bad seat in the house, because that stage comes out into the audience area," said Nielsen. "First and foremost it's an outdoor theater. It's theater under the stars and that's a very special experience not only for the audience but for the performers as well."

Nielson said that outdoor theater can leave performances open to some impromptu involvement from nature.

"We do have some resident bats that live in the rafters in the top of the stage house," said Nielsen. "Recently, during a performance of The Addams Family, there was one scene where they're referencing bats flying and almost on cue, that's when the bats came out from above and were flying above the audience. It was almost like a 4D experience for the audience!"

The grand reopening is Saturday featuring musician Mat Kearney, and is the start of what is hoped to be a new lease of life for the arts on the Central Coast.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award in 2022 and 2023.

Since joining the station she's won 10 Golden Mike Awards, 5 Los Angeles Press Club Awards, 2 National Arts & Entertainment Awards and a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Writing.

She started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007.

She has lived in California for eleven years and is both an American and British citizen - and a very proud mom to her daughter, Elsie.