Wednesday, Jul 10 2013 02:49 PM

Thieves exit stage left with $5,000 in property

BY JENNIFER SELF Californian lifestyles editor jself@bakersfield.com

The donation-supported Empty Space has long been accustomed to relying on the kindness of strangers, which is why the recent theft of about $5,000 in money and property has shaken the Oak Street theater, where until now the only thievery has been a little good-natured scene stealing.

But taking a cue from the production that ended last weekend, patrons have been showing sweet charity in response.

"People who don't normally even come to the theater are donating extra when they come in," said communications director Kayleigh Peaker. "I was working the door for 'Sweet Charity' and we had a family come in and the mother said, 'Here's our normal donation, but we heard you got broken into, so this is an extra $10.' That warms our heart."

On July 3, artistic director Bob Kempf arrived at the theater to discover the east entrance doors had been pried open, according to a media release prepared by the theater's board of directors. Peaker believes the break-in occurred sometime after 10 p.m. July 2 and before Kempf's arrival the next afternoon.

Among the missing items -- most of which were property of the theater -- was $150 in petty cash, two microphones that had been used only once, two iPhones used for credit card purchases, construction equipment and a bag of vintage costumes and props that belonged to Kempf.

"They're not pieces you could find in a costume shop," Peaker said. "You have to really search for them. He (Kempf) was really bummed about it."

Peaker said the data on the iPhones contained only the amount of each purchase, not personal information of credit card users.

The theater does carry liability insurance, Peaker said, but the board was just beginning the claims process and doesn't know how much, if any, restitution will be forthcoming. A police report has been filed.

The theater's security consists of locks and dead bolts on all the doors, though no alarm system is in place, said Peaker, who cited the prohibitive cost. The theater had purchased security cameras before the break-in, but they had yet to be installed.

"Luckily, when the thieves broke in, they didn't take those or didn't know we had them," said Peaker, who believes at least two thieves were involved because some of the items were too heavy for one person to carry.

Located in a rundown strip mall, the theater counts among its neighbors Pizzaville, Subway, a liquor store and an Internet sweepstakes cafe. Peaker said the theft has the board again contemplating the question of whether to move, perhaps to the Arts District downtown. However, the board has sunk a lot into capital improvements, including a recent renovation that added a passage behind the audience for the actors to use and improved lighting for the art gallery that shares the space.

"The possibility of moving has been on our minds for quite a while," Peaker said. "But being a donation-based theater makes it really difficult. It might push our efforts a little more. But since we did the remodel, I'm not sure."

Meanwhile, money raised from this weekend's production of "The Role I Was(n't) Born to Play" will go into a fund to replace the items, Peaker said. The revue is at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission is $20. For more on the comedy, turn to Page 22.

The theater also is accepting donations of money and replacement items on its website, www.esonline.org.

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