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Anaheim's Chance Theater opens new home, gets $250,000 gift

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California arts companies can only dream of getting a $250,000 grant from the budgetarily challenged California Arts Council.

But the Chance Theater in Anaheim announced Monday it has received a $250,000 private gift from the arts council’s chairman, Orange County trial lawyer Wylie Aitken.

Aitken and Chance leaders made the surprise announcement at Saturday’s opening festivities for the company’s new 150-seat theater, a few doors down from the 49-seat house it replaced.

Among those who’d been kept in the dark was Bette Aitken, the donor’s wife, in whose honor the house is now dubbed the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center.

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Her husband did have a bit of state business to attend to at the opening ceremony, reading a proclamation  from the California Arts Council that bestowed kudos, but no public bucks, on the Chance, which is making a rare step up from storefront to mid-size status.

The company said that with Aitken’s gift, it now has raised $575,000 toward a goal of $700,000, and his donation allows it to proceed immediately with a second expansion phase that will add classrooms, a 49-seat cabaret and a scenery shop over the coming year. 

Getting to $700,000 also will allow the Chance, which occupies rented space in an office-industrial complex, to upgrade its technical equipment, including lights and sound, and make additional improvements to the lobby, managing director Casey Long said.

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The first show in the new house is “Lysistrata Jones” (Feb. 7-March 9), a musical updating of Aristophanes’ ancient comedy “Lysistrata” by Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn.

The 2014 season also includes Sarah Ruhl’s “Passion Play” (April 25-May 18), the 2008 Tony-winning musical  “In the Heights,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes (July 3-Aug. 3), “Maple and Vine” by Jordan Harrison (Sept. 19-Oct. 12), the musical “She Loves Me,” with songs by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock (Nov. 28-Dec. 28) and “Striking 12,” a holiday musical by Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda and Rachel Sheinkin (Dec. 9-28).

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