Theater group hopes to rebuild act as Expo Arts Center undergoes major renovations

<strong>Chrysalis Stage, a small theater group, was planning to use dozens of old seats from the historic Atlantic Theater for productions in the Back Room Theatre at the Expo Arts Center on Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls. However, it’s unclear whether the seats can be recovered after sustaining substantial water damage last month.</strong>
Sean Belk
Staff Writer

A mishap that caused significant water damage last month to the north section of the Expo Arts Center in Bixby Knolls, including in the Back Room Theatre, is now presenting new opportunities for renovating the entire portion of the facility.
Although some parties are impacted financially by the water damage that city officials and community leaders say was caused by a roofing contractor not securely protecting the inside space from rainfall, some affected individuals are looking on the bright side of the situation.
“It’s so silly, you just have to laugh about it,” said Aaron Morgan, director and co-founder of the small theater group Chrysalis Stage, which had planned to make its Long Beach debut at the Expo last month with Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest but had to cancel the production after rain flooded the facility.
According to city officials, the north portion of the Expo, which is located on Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls, has to be gutted and entirely rebuilt due to substantial water damage caused by rain that flooded the facility in late January.
Douglas Orr, the building’s manager, has stated that Long Beach Roofing, Inc. was replacing the facility’s roof as part of a $200,000 overhaul but didn’t secure plastic over the top of the structure properly, allowing rain to deluge the upstairs and downstairs areas. City officials confirmed that the contractor’s insurance company is expected to cover the total cost of all damages, and the City won’t have to pay for any renovations through its General Fund.
Jonathan Kraus, chief of staff for 8th District Long Beach City Councilmember Al Austin, said via email on Feb. 13 that work and discussions between the City and the insurance company were still underway this week and no complete numbers of the assessed water damage were available yet.
Orr, however, has stated that the rain soaked sound equipment, gallery art pieces, an electrical conduit, floors, walls, scenic materials and storage. As part of the overhaul paid for by funding through the former Long Beach Redevelopment Agency, new tiles on cement floors, a light-dimming system and a sprinkler system were to be installed, but now the entire portion of the building has to be renovated.
Blair Cohn, executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, also couldn’t confirm the entire damage, but he added that the portion of the building has to be taken down to the studs. “Ultimately, they’re going to have to put all the walls back up and replace the electrical,” he said, adding that, fortunately, a kids theater group was able to salvage some equipment.
On the bright side, he said, the project will now provide major renovations to the building and added that the City’s public works department acted promptly to help clean up the situation. “It’s a drag… It’s a real bummer,” Cohn said. “The good news is the City acted immediately.”
Morgan added that the water damage also caused floors to buckle and become weak in spaces. “It seems like somebody was responsible, and there was a fair amount of damage,” he said. “It really was a mess.”
The nonprofit theater group, which has been producing plays in Whittier since 2008, decided to move to Long Beach this year, planning to take up space in the Expo’s Back Room Theatre that was previously used for productions by the Long Beach Shakespeare Company and Long Beach Opera.
Morgan said the company was able to salvage dozens of old seats from the historic Atlantic Theater, which is being demolished to make way for a new library. However, he said, after the water damage, he’s not sure if the seats are recoverable at this point.
“It’s certainly disappointing because the idea was to rescue this part of history in Long Beach,” Morgan said. “We were hoping to just clean them, and they still would be old and charming, but now I don’t know … it doesn’t look good.”
He said, however, that the group founded by Morgan and his wife Andrea still plans to stay in the Expo center. “We felt that, given the circumstances of being a new move for us, there would be too many obstacles trying to restart and move to a new location given this whole roofing and flooding fiasco,” he said. “We really wanted to start our Long Beach experience there at the Expo and wanted to make that our new home.”
Morgan said the group is planning to now come back with a series of free play readings for the First Fridays Art Walk in Bixby Knolls starting in March, to take place in the main hall of the Expo Arts Center. He said he would be using the down time as an opportunity for fundraising and to introduce the theater group to Long Beach.
Morgan said it would be nice to eventually have a 70-seat to 99-seat theatre venue. “Hopefully, we can recover some time, do some fundraising and give the Expo building time to put itself back together to put on the type of production we wanted,” he said.


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