Long Beach theater goers have an abundance of venues in which to see productions such as the Beverly O'Neill Theater, Long Beach Playhouse, Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts, and the Long Beach Community Theater, just to name a few.
And now presenting one more — the P3Theatre Company playing at the Ernest Borgnine Theatre at 855 Elm Ave., in downtown Long Beach.
The company’s first presentation will be the musical “Evita.” Opening night is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, with a grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony at 7:30 p.m.
Jon Peterson, 49, is P3 Theatre Company’s executive artistic director. He said he believes the city will welcome his nonprofit group with open arms.
“We are coming in with a fresh, new look,” Peterson said. “We will mix up plays with musicals. We have a passion for diversity. We are going to be part of the community. No one will be denied entrance to this theater for any reason. If someone wants to see a show and they can’t afford it, I’m not going to say ‘no.’ That’s a strict policy of mine.”
Peterson is a man of many hats. After graduating from UC Irvine with a degree in theater (he started as a criminology major), he set off for Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he worked in dinner theaters while making mad dashes to New York City to audition for Broadway plays. Then, he made his way to New York where he waited tables for a year and a half but never went to an audition.
As a second act, Peterson became a merchandising manager for a national pet store chain, then transitioned into the trade show industry and also earned his MBA online from the University of Texas-Arlington.
And in addition to running the theater company, he’s an Uber driver – “that’s my money maker right now.”
The name of his company also drives his philosophy of the theater business: “The three Ps stand for passionate, progressive and pragmatic,” he said. “But passionate is the most important. To be in theater, live theater, you have to be passionate about the craft because there are so many challenges and rejects and no’s when you audition. You are always selling yourself. It’s not for the faint of heart.”
The Borgnine Theatre, dedicated in 2011, sits inside the Scottish Rite Cathedral. But it has been used mostly for dance recitals and the occasional company meeting or quinceañera. The theater seats 800, but for this season’s productions, only the 371 seats on the bottom level will be used.
“The stage was extended,” Peterson said, “and if the actors go forward too far, people in the balcony can’t see them.”
As Peterson walks into his office, he reveals that he has some ties to “Evita.” He shows a picture of a group of actors — including himself — performing “Evita” in 1995 at the Curtain Call Dinner Theater in Tustin.
"Evita is more than a musical masterpiece,” he said. “The story is amazingly relevant today — a true story about a charismatic personality with no governing experience who rides ambition, opportunity and a wave of populism to political triumph and power.”
Peterson, who was recently accepted into the next Leadership Long Beach class, knows how fortunate he is to have found a venue for his productions.
“Tim Cable runs the Scottish Rite building,” Peterson said. “We had done a show together here on this stage and had become friends. Originally, I was just going to be renting out space, but Tim said ‘why don't we make this your resident theater company.’ ”
Peterson still pinches himself over all that has happened, but said he knows the bottom line is he has to show the building’s board and his directors that his productions can make money.
“I’ve received so many paychecks throughout my career as an actor that now I get to pay it back and bring in the next generation of theater performers and theater goers, hopefully,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate in life when I’ve done big, sharp turns, they’ve always worked out. So, if something does happen or there is no community support, then I will take everything I learned, see what I could have done better, regroup and try again.
“I’m someone who will take everything he’s learned in his life experience and use that to help make the world better. One person at a time.”