The Chance Theater's audience won't need driving directions come February, when the Anaheim Hills stage company says it will open a new venue that will triple its seating capacity from 49 to 150.
Company leaders announced Tuesday that they'll be moving just a few doors down, from 5552 E. La Palma Ave., to 5522 E. La Palma in the same office-industrial complex.
The move will immediately double the Chance's physical footprint from the current 3,000 square feet to 6,000 square feet, with the lobby and dressing rooms enlarged along with the playing space.
A second expansion phase, expected by the end of 2014, will add a scenery workshop, theater offices and a combination classroom and rehearsal space.
Theater leaders said the decision to grow now was driven by ticket demand, with shows having played at 94% of capacity, on average, over the last three years.
"This move will give us greater artistic tools and flexibility to deepen and broaden our work," said artistic director Oanh Nguyen, who has led the company since 1998, when it played in temporary spaces before naming itself the Chance in 1999 and settled in the same complex that has been its home since.
The Chance launched its expansion fundraising campaign about six months ago, said managing director Casey Long, aiming for $465,000 by the time the new venue opens six months from now.
The overall goal is $700,000, which would cover the second expansion phase and allow for additional upgrades to the theater's sound and lighting system and improvements to the lobby. Donations so far have totaled $235,000, including a top gift of $50,000 from an as-yet-unidentified donor for whom the lobby will be named.
With the tripling in physical size will come a significant boost in expenses as the Chance ramps up marketing to fill the new seats while dealing with higher rent and utility costs. Long said the theater's annual budget is expected to rise from about $400,000 this season to as much as $600,000 in 2014. The company also aims to increase actors' pay — currently $100 a week for five or six performances.
Long said the Chance has a 10-year lease on its new space, with an option for a 10-year extension.
"There have been stories of theater companies that moved to new locations and had to work on getting a whole new audience base," he said. The Chance will remain a "flexible" theater — with no fixed stage or seating, it will reconfigure its space for each production as the material and performance style dictate.
Long said it envisions more casting flexibility as well, under an expected agreement with the stage actors' union, Actors' Equity, that would allow it to hire one or two union actors per production as "guest-artists." They can earn about $470 to $700 a week in pay and benefits, depending on the number of performances.
Like other small Orange County theaters, the Chance until now has had to do without Equity actors.
In discussions over the last two years, Long said, the union made it clear that it would not extend to Orange County the 99-seat-theater plan under which its members are allowed to appear on Los Angeles County's small stages for minimal pay. The principle in L.A. is that the exposure and the collective advantage of having access to a healthy small-theater scene can compensate for low wages.
Long said the Chance will announce the plays for the first season on its new stage at a fundraising event Sept. 14.