Grants available to boost the arts in downtown San Jose as theater companies struggle

Lauren Martinez Image
Friday, March 15, 2024
New money to boost the arts in downtown SJ as theaters struggle
Twenty $5,000 grants will be going toward downtown San Jose arts organizations as theater venues face issues from break-ins to battling a culture of home streaming.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- In San Jose, organizations in the arts can apply to a new grant program that aims to promote them and downtown.

There is power in performing arts.

City Lights Theater Company has been open for 41 years in San Jose.

Executive artistic director Lisa Mallette has been with the company for more than 20 years.

"We gather people together for a living and we tell stories that make them laugh, make them cry, that matter to them. It builds community and I think people just forgot," Mallette said.

Mallette has seen the theater weather two recessions, a pandemic and now most recently - an early morning break-in on Sunday.

VIDEO: 'MJ: The Musical' now on tour in SF. Here's a look with lead star Roman Banks

Roman Banks, the actor playing Michael Jackson, spoke with ABC7 News about "MJ: The Musical," now on tour in San Francisco.

"It just feels like a violation," Mallette said.

Mallette said two people stole iPhones, tablets, and other things needed in their upcoming production - King Liz.

"People who are not in theater think of a prop as something that is not real - you know that's a pretend thing but these were real things," Mallette said.

Mallette said theater companies large and small are struggling - whether that's from a lack of funders or people filling seats.

Venues are battling a culture of streaming comfortably at home.

"I never binged watched anything before the pandemic and now I'm like oh yeah I can see why this is fun," Mallette said. "But nothing can replace being with other human beings in a space enjoying something together or just being a part of something together."

This month, the San Jose Downtown Association launched an arts marketing grant program where 20 - $5,000 grants can go towards arts organizations in downtown.

MORE: Oakland native Zendaya donates $100,000 to her former theater company Cal Shakes Conservatory

The grants can be used for a single event, a series of events, or a marketing campaign within the 'Business Improvement District' boundaries.

Randall King is one of the original founders of San Jose Stage, which opened in 1982.

"Everything helps, everything helps- and it's not always cash in hand- sometimes it's folks energy. There are times I talk to a patron in the audience who says I'm a graphic artist, what can I do to help you with your graphics - I'm a projectionist I can help you project- those are great values as well. Because they're bringing their passion to our passion," King said.

King says theater is coming back, but it's not the same.

"It feels like it did when VHS hit. And we thought ah how are we ever going to survive this? And I think the future of theater is going to be people are going to come to feel something visceral - real," King said.

On Thursday evening, cast and crew were rehearsing for the play 'Hangmen' by Martin McDonagh that will run at The Stage from April 3rd- April 28th.

MORE: 600-pound metal sculpture stolen in San Jose destroyed, sold for scrap metal, SJPD says

"Live theater is the most special form of performing arts, you can be on a film set and you can be making lots of money but you have no control. And you have a limited life with your character. The thing about a theater production is you live with your character in a way where you can personify and really knock an audience out with the electrical charge of your performance room like this," King said.

Back at City Lights, cast and crew were getting ready for their production of King Liz - written by Fernanda Coppel and directed by Kinan Valdez. That show will run from March 21st until April 21st.

"It's about a black female basketball sports agent and how difficult that is in such a traditional man's world," Mallette said.

For Mallette, she hopes people will remember how engaged and connected performing arts can be.

"I think we have to get them back once and they're going to remember how great it is to be with other human beings," Mallette said.