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Wednesday, Dec 07, 2011 - Canvassed | Art & culture

Technomania Circus lost one home; now they could lose Victory Theater

Outdated zoning rules might cost the local performance group their new home

By Kinsee Morlan
technomaniacircus Nick Slavicek, Valerie Power andBruce Cartier
- Photo by Kinsee Morlan

A local performance group lost one location; now outdated zoning rules could force it out of another venue (click here for an update on this story.

In July, Technomania Circus, an eclectic band of artists and performers that, for six years, staged circus shows in the backyard of a house on Commercial Street in Barrio Logan, got visits from the Fire Department and Neighborhood Code Compliance.

“Apparently, backyard circus is not allowed in San Diego,” said Bruce Cartier, who goes by Dr. Techno and helped start the troupe in 1999.

The crew quickly found a new location, an old theater building at 2558 Imperial Ave. in Logan Heights. They called it Victory Theater—a reference to its name in the 1920s—and put on their first show in early August.

The building needed a considerable amount of work, though, and since opening Victory Theater, they’ve spent more time refurbishing and cleaning than rehearsing and performing. To help cover overhead, they’ve been renting out the space to other performance, music and theater groups and trying to hold at least one show per month, including Sunday puppet shows for neighborhood kids (next up is a holiday-themed production geared toward adults at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10).

At last Sunday’s puppet show, a woman from the neighborhood sat and waited for the first act with two of her grandkids.

“I never even knew this building was here,” she said, “and I’ve lived here for 25 years.”

The building was a movie theater from the 1920s through the 1950s. In 1958, it served as a church and remained so until a few years ago. The building then sat vacant until Technomania signed a lease.

Wanting things to be aboveboard this time, Technomania recently applied for a business license and chose “theater” from a list of options. Days later, they received an email from the city saying the location, which is part of a redevelopment area under the jurisdiction of the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., wasn’t zoned for a theater. They were advised to apply for two special permits, estimated to cost $8,600 each.

Currently in the process of applying for nonprofit status so they can supplement their income with grants and donations, the Technomania Circus folks say they can’t afford $17,200 in permitting costs. They’ve turned to community leaders, including Councilmember David Alvarez, for help.

“The problem obviously has to do with the outdated community plan,” Alvarez said. “Back in ’87 was the last time it was updated. We’ve seen a couple of complications.”

Alvarez cited a recent issue with a recycling facility in a location that isn’t zoned for light industrial, as well as Latte Mi Corazon, a coffeehouse that was shut down because it was in a spot that isn’t zoned for commercial use. He said the solution is an updated community plan.

“You’re seeing these problems pop up more and more because of the antiquated community plans,” Alvarez said.

“The needs of the community are changing all the time, and we’ve got a plan that hasn’t been updated for 24 years now. It’s out of date and out of touch with reality.”

The Southeastern San Diego Community Plan is in the early stages of being updated. However, it isn’t expected to be finished for several years, which means Technomania Circus must come up with the money, find a workaround or move out.

“We’re trying to figure out exactly what they need to do at this point,” Alvarez said.

The group doesn’t plan to close the curtain.

“But I have this really insecure feeling,” Technomania performer Valerie Power said. “It seems like no matter which way you try to go, there are roadblocks. I feel like we’re doing something wrong, but we’re not.”

“We’re just putting on circus shows,” performer Nick Slavicek added.