Most Bay Area residents in search of culture don't venture beyond San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. Will new arts centers popping up in sleepy drive-by suburbs like Tracy, San Ramon, Pleasanton, and Livermore attract arts afficionados from the big city? By Chloe Veltman.
Towns like Tracy and San Ramon aren't known for their exciting cultural scenes. Whenever I've been through these places -- I've never actually been to them -- and spared them a glance out of my rear-view mirror, all I've been aware of is rows of boring residential streets and mini-malls.
It seems that it might soon be worth slowing down and even parking in these towns instead of passing through them with a disdainful shrug. A bunch of new arts organizations are about to open in these nutty little out of the way places. Within the next three months Tri-Valley, California and the surrounding region will be home to the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center, San Ramon's Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center, Pleasanton's Firehouse Arts Center, and Tracy's Grand Theatre Center for the Arts. Each facility will seat an average of 500 patrons, making this possibly one of the biggest art venue booms this area has seen in many, many years.
What's behind this "East Bay Arts Boom?" Where's the money coming from? Can we expect to see anything at Tracy's Grand Theatre Center for the Arts beyond Neil Simon plays and community productions of Oklahoma? Will Pleasanton's Firehouse Arts Center show more than just Dale Chihuly art glass exhibitions?
A cursory glance at the inaugural season programming for Livermore's venue suggests variety if nothing else. Classics like Puccini's La Boheme rub shoulders with The Shaolin Monks ("warrior monks of China’s legendary Shaolin temple display ancient forms of hand-to-hand and weapons combat in a thrilling and spectacular theatrical Kungfu production," the website says.) Tracy's Grand, meanwhile, has a similarly ecclectic lineup, which ranges from jazz trumpeter Jeff Bordes, to Beehive The Musical, to an appearance by MTV magician Keith Arlen Lack.
I don't suppose San Franciscans will drop everything and head to San Ramon any time soon, but it might not be too long before they decide to make a pit-stop there on the way back from a road trip to load up on gas, pretzels and maybe even a play.