Theater creator bows out in Sacramento • Sacramento News & Review
Buck Busfield looks back on decades of bringing the local scene to life
By Patti Roberts
After more than 35 years as one of the central pillars of Sacramento’s theater scene, B Street Theater’s Buck Busfield leaves the stage left.
Buck, who first joined his brother Timothy Busfield in 1986 to help launch a local touring children’s theater – and eventually expanded it to become what is now ‘The Sophia: Home of B Street Theatre’ – recently announced his retirement. After serving as Production Artistic Director and Theater Company Manager, Busfield is handing over the reins to new management this summer.
Busfield told SN&R that her current responsibilities will be shared, with assistant artistic director Lyndsay Burch being elevated to artistic director and a national search conducted for a general manager.
“Lyndsay was the student and now she’s the master,” Busfield said, noting her growth from intern in 2013 to an essential part of the business. “She understands our unique relationship we’ve formed with the community.”
Burch acknowledged Busfield’s influence.
“I’ve followed Buck over the years – he’s been a mentor and a guide,” she said. “Many people here don’t realize the national profile and recognition of B Street, their commitment to creating a family of theater and their dedication to performing contemporary plays.”
Both Busfield and Burch say they don’t foresee any major changes coming, though they say the theater will continue to push for more diversity in scripts, actors, and audiences.
Busfield was the central figure in the company’s various developments, including what is now known as “The Sophia: Home of B Street Theatre”. Over the years it incorporated the original Children’s Theater program into a larger vision which first included the B Street Theater before merging into the current Sophia Theater complex which houses three stages and produces theatrical productions and music concerts.
It was at the age of 70 that Busfield realized he was ready for a change and the theater was ready for a new direction. Part of the epiphany came with the recent COVID shutdowns, but also included a proud reflection on the theater’s overall growth.
“COVID closures have given us an opportunity to pause and reflect on who we were and where we are going,” Busfield acknowledged.
Although it has unfortunately had to lay off staff due to the closures, B Street has been able to maintain a hard core and pay rent through grants and donations.
Additionally, the Sophia was able to produce virtual programming five times a week, totaling over 270 shows, with Busfield acknowledging staff, cast, board members, donors, community leaders, board members city and county administration and subscribers for keeping the theater afloat.
Fans of The Sophia: Home of B Street Theater say one of its unique qualities involves creating a theater family with a core cast of actors who have such rare theatrical perks as health insurance.
“It becomes clear that if you use the same actors, the audience gets to know them and forms a lasting relationship with them,” Busfield observed.
And those relationships remain close, with accolades pouring in to express gratitude for Busfield’s mentorship, friendship and guidance over the years. So many heartfelt thanks have been passed on for this article that we’ve included them all at the end.
Some examples of B Street Theater acting company members:
“It’s hard to explain the world that Buck has built for his actors over the decades,” said Stephanie Altholz. “He has created one of the few theaters in the country that has a safe, fantastic, brilliant and fun company. So few actors can pay their theater bills and he did it for all of us.
“Buck’s skills as a director are hard to match, but it was his foresight and drive that established the B Street Theater as an important part of Sacramento’s arts culture,” explained Peter Story. “He created a legacy that continues to grow and put Sacramento on the theater map.”
“Buck has been making me laugh, really laugh, tear-inducing hernia-causing hysterical laughter for over 30 years,” said Greg Alexander. “He brought a group of theater artists to Sacramento. Buck and B Street’s legacy is a source of great pride and gratitude for the entire community.
Busfield nods to his brother Tim, who helped develop the first children’s company and then opened the original theater on B Street in 1991. The brothers chose Sacramento for several reasons, he said , notably that it was an hour’s flight from Hollywood where Tim had his acting career. Sacramento also had a shortage of live theater at the time.
“The only professional theaters using equity actors were the Sacramento Theater Company and the Music Circus, so we knew we could fill a void,” Busfield recalled. “The theatrical landscape was ripe and I was ready for a new adventure.”
So they found an empty warehouse on B Street in Midtown and dove into it, outfitting it with a stage, risers, bathrooms, dressing rooms and a lobby. And soon, the B Street Theater was open and providing theatrical experiences.
“The community was ready for us,” Busfield recalled, though he acknowledged that the theater community was “a little hesitant thinking we were too Hollywood.”
He quickly proved them wrong.
“To this day, I can’t believe this has happened,” Busfield said, guessing his theater company has hosted more than 600 productions and mainline concerts at both the B Street site and the new complex. of Sophia.
Although Busfield says it’s not in his nature to think, the news of his retirement has forced him a bit in the past.
“With the opening of the Sofia in 2018, I see the bond of love continuing between the community and our theatre,” he admitted.
Although he witnessed many successes, Busfield always felt “a sense of dread, that we are one bomb from injury and three bombs from failure”.
So far, the bombs have not fallen.
Upon retirement, Busfield will step back from day-to-day operations, but will continue to be involved as a board member and consultant. He may even continue as a playwright. All these years he wrote an annual play for the holidays.
B Street members remember Busfield’s contributions
• “His work has been a gift to hundreds of artists, hundreds of thousands of children and adults, and many other professionals and employees in the Sacramento area.” – kurt johnsonacting society member
• “At the age of 15, Buck was the instructor of my very first acting class. Over the years he helped me discover the extent of my talent and helped me develop my confidence as an actor. He is a truly inspiring soul. – Amy Kellyacting society member
• “Buck has always combined the perfect measure of hard work and pure fun. Putting on a show on B Street is exciting, empowering and always fun to laugh till you cry. Buck gave us all the space we needed to grow as artists. – Julia Brothersacting society member
• “Buck Busfield’s greatest legacy is his vision. No one has done more to develop the theatrical arts in the Sacramento area than Buck and the B Street Theater. Literally millions of children have been exposed to the theater because of its ambition. – Dave Pierini, Acting Society Member
• “Buck Busfield made me a better actor. He knew my process before I did. He gave us a home to create our family and create lifelong friendships. –STephanie McVay, Acting Society Member
• “Almost twenty years ago I left Los Angeles to live and work with this island of misfit toys because Buck Busfield has the ability to extract gold from anything. He can extract the best talent from a small market like Sacramento, can extract the comedy and drama from a mediocre play and make it great and can extract the conflict and humor from a great play and make it even greater. Jason Kuykendallacting society member
• “At the age of 15, Buck was the instructor of my very first acting class. Over the years, he made me discover the extent of my talent and helped me develop my confidence as an actor. Through B Street, it gave me a plethora of opportunities and it was one of the main reasons I chose acting as a profession. – Amy Kellyacting society member
• “At 20, Buck snatched me from a Southeast theater conference and brought me into the folds of what would soon become my most beloved community with lifelong friendships. For many of us, he provided a foundation for our craft and instilled the signature B Street brand of quirky, honest, heartfelt comedy, with a shared, burning mission to nurture budding artists. – Tate Hanyokacting society member
• “It’s impossible to say in a few words how much Buck meant to so many people. He forever enriched our lives, not only as artists, but as human beings. It’s so important. – Dana Brookeacting society member
• “Buck is a man with an abundance of intelligence, talent and willpower. Her mastery of this set of tools has forged an institution that has benefited myriad artists like me, as well as the community in which she is nestled. I’m incredibly grateful to have most of my career associated with Buck and the B Street Theatre. – John Lambacting society member