(photo by City Of Santa Monica)

BERGAMOT STATION ¬ó By the end of the year, the Bergamot Station arts complex on the east end of Santa Monica will look radically different.

Track 16, a large building on the north end of the complex, will be demolished to make way for the coming Exposition Light Rail Line, and much of the area will be transformed by the construction.

If Charles Duncombe and Frederique Michel have anything to do with it, Bergamot Station will lose a gallery, but gain a theater.

Duncombe and Michel lead the City Garage theater group, a staple of the Santa Monica performing arts community for the past 15 years.

The company specializes in “adventurous, contemporary” work, including obscure European plays and reimaginings of ancient myths and legends, said Duncombe, the company’s producing director.

“The goal is to make people think. The people we’re reaching are the curious, and people who are not satisfied with mainstream culture. They go to the theater and like to come away with something to talk about,” Duncombe said.

Little wonder, then, that the City Garage troupe was excited to leave the Third Street Promenade after 15 years in a back alley space to take up new digs in Tom Patchett’s Track 16 Gallery at Bergamot Station.

The move allowed the company to collaborate with other visual artists in exciting new ways, like a faux gallery opening that synched with a performance of a play by American film director and playwright Neil LaBute.

With the destruction of Track 16 around the corner, however, City Garage is eyeing another spot in “Building T” and the possibility of establishing a permanent home in the art center.

To that end, City Garage partnered with a local fundraising website Whenyouwish.com to put out a call to arms to patrons of the arts, asking for their support to create a dynamic new theater setting to push City Garage into the limelight.

Whenyouwish.com is similar to Kickstarter.com or Indiegogo.com in that it allows small organizations to crowdsource donations for worthy undertakings. It goes a step further by supporting a wider breadth of projects and charging a smaller fee.

It also lets people sell unwanted belongings and direct the profits to an organization of their choice, said Andy Martinez, the website’s chief technology officer.

The goal is to raise $50,000 in 40 days so that the new theater can be ready to go by August 2012, in time for the company’s fall performance, a new take on the Greek myth Orestes.

The Wells Fargo Foundation promised a matching grant at the end of the fundraising effort, Duncombe said, so those who get in on the ground floor will see their dollar go twice as far.

Although Track 16 was a lucky find, it didn’t leave the company free to build standing sets, and it had no control over the lighting, which hampered artistic director Michel’s visual style.

The company envisions an experimental space with flexible seating for 50 to 75 people that can be arranged and rearranged based on the needs of the play.

The fundraising effort is the largest that the local company has ever taken on, Duncombe said.

“To be part of this launch is great for us, and obviously the power of the web is enormous,” Duncombe said. “A large number of people can do a lot of good with really small dollars. It’s exciting to have this platform to reach out to people that have never heard of us before.”

Establishing the new theater is part of a longer-term vision that includes City Garage as the premiere theater group in Bergamot Station with a million dollar budget, fully-paid staff and programs for at-risk youth.

That may not be a promise that the group can make, however.

City Hall owns Bergamot Station and leases the space to philanthropist Wayne Blank for a song. The idea was to create an renowned arts community in the city by the sea, a goal long since achieved.

With the redevelopment of Bergamot Station as an actual train stop, City Hall put out a call to developers throughout the nation for ideas on how to maintain the essence of the arts community that has already developed at the spot and balance it with commercial and residential interests to make it financially viable.

Which developer gets the rights to the area and what terms City Hall negotiates will determine whether or not City Garage can make its vision a reality.

Their work fits the description of what community members want to see in the new arts community, specifically something other than gallery spaces and things that are open past normal working hours, said Jessica Cusick, cultural affairs manager for City Hall.

Although it’s impossible to say for sure that City Garage will get to stay at Bergamot indefinitely, they have several years before any major changes come to the site, Cusick said.

“I think it’s a labor of love on their part, and it shows their passion and commitment to Santa Monica,” Cusick said.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *