Chance Theater Celebrates New Home and New Name: Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center

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Chance Theater Celebrates New Home and New Name: Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center

At Saturday's grand opening of Chance Theater's Bold New Home, Wylie Aitken, a major arts supporter and chair of the California Arts Council, announced that he has made a $250,000 contribution to name the new home of the Chance after his lovely wife, Bette Aitken. The new name will be the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center. The official dedication ceremony will be scheduled soon.

The announcement, which was a surprise to everyone in the room except a handful of people and Wylie Aitken himself, came after Founding Artistic Director Oanh Nguyen invited Wylie to the stage to present a special proclamation from the California Arts Council. As Wylie started to speak about the proclamation, he caused murmurs in the audience when he turned the microphone back over to Oanh for a "special announcement." Oanh invited both Bette Aitken and Mayor Tom Tait up onstage. "Every time I would run into you at a show or an event you always greeted me with a big beautiful smile and a warm hug, followed by so much interest and questions about our little theater down the hill," Oanh Nguyen started. "Bette, now I'm told you have no idea why you're up here, but since you share so many of the qualities that we strive for here at the Chance: integrity, inclusivity, and generosity, well...."

And it was Mayor Tom Tait who concluded the statement by saying "We are honored to announce that thanks to a $250,000 gift to the capital campaign by your lovely husband, this building will bear the name Chance Theater at the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center." The audience, made up of Chance patrons, gave the announcement a long standing ovation. After, when Bette was asked to say a few words, she was left speechless, saying only "I'm just overwhelmed. I've never had an honor like this. I will be very proud to have my name on this theater."

Then the proclamation from the California Arts Council actually was presented by Wylie, honoring Chance Theater at the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center and the "many generous individuals [who] came together to make this night possible: community members, audience members, board members, and Chance resident artists."

"Julie and I just love the Chance Theater," Mayor Tom Tait said at the event. "I'm glad you thanked so many people because it shows what it takes to make something like this happen. Anaheim is a city of kindness, and really what it is many, many kind acts by a lot of people to make this happen. It's not just for the people that go, but for the whole city. Anaheim will be known as a city of arts, and this is a big step on getting us there, and I want to thank Oanh and everyone who made this happen."

This naming gift pushes the Chance's fundraising total close to $575,000 of its $700,000 capital campaign goal. This support from the community means the Chance can immediately start plans for its second phase, which includes expanding into another unit that will be used primarily for classrooms, a 49-seat cabaret space, as well as a permanent scene shop.

"This very generous gift from the Aitkens means we can move forward with the second phase of our capital campaign," says Managing Director Casey Long. "The first phase is important for the expansion of what we can do with our season of shows every year. The second phase is imperative to the overall expansion of our mission. We can make more of an impact in this community by broadening our education programs, offering additional programming, and having the kind of venue will bring the community together."

Also in attendance at the Chance's Grand Opening were Anaheim City Councilmembers Gail Eastman and Lucille Kring, major campaign supporters Sophie and Larry Cripe (who also serve as campaign consultant and campaign chair, respectively), Tod and Linda White, and Board Chair Mary Kay Fyda-Mar, as well as South Coast Repertory's founding artistic directors Martin Benson (who also serves on the Chance's board) and David Emmes, Board vice-chair Scott Well and his wife (board member and construction coordinator) Georgia Well, other campaign donors, board members, and resident artists.

The event included a ceremonial ribbon cutting, followed by a presentation that included two performances of the Chance's first show in their 2014 Season - the west coast premiere of Lysistrata Jones -- as well as an original opening and closing number, featuring Chance performers and resident artists. Following the formal event, the naming donors posed for photos and then signed the wall in the actor's backstage hallway, making it the first and last things Chance artists see when they enter and leave the theater.

For those who want to support the Chance's efforts to complete its capital campaign fundraising, there are still naming opportunities available, ranging from the theater stage to the sound system. You can even adopt a chair in the new theater for $2,500. To make a pledge, or for more information, call Chance Theater's Development Director Erika C. Miller at (714) 970-0592.

Chance Theater was founded in 1999, and has established itself as one of the leading ensemble-driven theatre companies in Southern California. The Chance recently won three Ovation Awards, including Best Production of a Musical - Intimate Theater, for its West Coast premiere of Triassic Parq - The Musical. The Chance also received an LADCC Award earlier this year for its reimagined revival of West Side Story. Twice named "Outstanding Arts Organization" by Arts Orange County, Chance Theater is also a recipient of the LADCC's Polly Warfield Award for Excellence. Chance Theater is focused on its goal of being Orange County's premiere mid-size contemporary theater. As a constituent member of Theatre Communications Group, Network of Ensemble Theaters, and the LA Stage Alliance, Chance Theater continues to bring national attention to the Southern California and Orange County theater scenes.

Chance Theater's new home is located at what will soon be named Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center, 5522 E. La Palma Ave, Anaheim, CA 92807.

Photo Credit: Doug Catiller

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