Warehouse fire affects multiple small theater troupes in Contra Costa County

Warehouse fire affects multiple small theater troupes in Contra Costa County
A rainbow emerges as Con Fire personnel continue pouring water on the smoldering remains of the Pittsburg Theatre Company warehouse. (Photo courtesy of Dianna Schepers)

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (June 21, 2024) — After a June 9 fire destroyed its warehouse and much of the contents, Pittsburg Theatre Company (PTC) wasted no time in forging ahead and starting a $50,000 fundraising campaign.

PTC hopes to maintain its vital role of supporting local productions with props, costumes and sets along with a place to store them.

The blaze, named the John Fire, originated in PTC’s warehouse on John Henry Johnson Parkway. Whipped by gusting winds, the inferno spread to about 55 acres of adjacent grassland.

While some contents were salvaged, the staggering losses impacted not only PTC’s upcoming production of “The Sunshine Boys” (through June 23 at the California Theatre), but also show essentials that were in storage for other area theater productions including Onstage’s August presentation of “Spamalot” at the Campbell Theater in Martinez.

Everyone’s loss

Warehouse fire affects multiple small theater troupes in Contra Costa County“Our loss is everyone’s, too,” said Dianna Schepers, who handles PTC’s public relations.

Area troupes built what they needed and then stored them at PTC’s warehouse. Likewise, ensembles “use our resources and they rent them,” she continued.

In the wake of the fire, groups including Brentwood’s Ghostlight Theatre Ensemble, Clayton Theatre Company, Onstage Production in Martinez and Pinole Community Players all reached out to PTC officials to offer in-kind support.

“The theater community is very tight-knit, and we rely on each other,” Schepers said of the cooperative approach that has been nurtured over the years.

“Whatever we need, if they have it, we can have it,” she added.

Financial burden

Schepers noted the financial burden carried by these smaller theaters is a lot more than people realize. While bigger companies like those operating at the Lesher Center for the Arts may have $100,000 budgets for a production, smaller companies see costs of $30,000-$35,000 for musicals and $15,000 for plays when budgeting for sets, props, costumes and production rights.

The blaze represents a major setback for “Clue,” another production planned for the Martinez theater this fall.

“We had so much of the set pieces for it that we didn’t have to build for that show,” said Schepers. “So now we have start from scratch.”

While insurance will cover some of the losses, PTC looks to rise from the ashes through the fundraising campaign dubbed The Phoenix Project. In addition, they have scheduled a cabaret benefit for July 27. Theater performers touched by the incident inquired about contributing their talents, and the California Theater donated space for the event.

“What I hope is that people will want to come over the hill, see our shows and donate to us,” said Schepers. “Our shows are just as good as what is produced at the Lesher.

“We are not going away,” she added. “The show must go on.”

Under investigation

The fire remains under investigation. Lauren Ono of the Costa County Fire Protection District noted the warehouse was an older building not equipped with a sprinkler system, but they never had any complaints. Because of the building’s particular classification for general storage, Ono said it did not require an annual inspection.

You can make donations to The Phoenix Project online at www.pittsburgcommunitytheatre.org. The public also can contribute through www.givesendgo.com/search/PTC. Details of the cabaret benefit are pending.

David Scholz
David Scholz

David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.