After a decade in a Mt. Pleasant strip mall, the Village Playhouse is moving its operations to an up-and-coming downtown district. The company has secured a long-term lease in the historic Meddin Bros. warehouse, a former refrigerated meatpacking facility on Woolfe Street. It's a major undertaking for a company that has built a loyal following of mostly older suburbanites, especially since they still have to raise about $550,000 for the $800,000 renovation.
The Playhouse's current lease expires in July, and they hope that renovations will be completed in time to move to the new space to begin their 12th season as scheduled next fall. Once funding is secured, the renovations should take about five months. But raising that much money is no easy task.
"We need a lot of support," says co-owner and Artistic Director Keely Enright. "Because we've secured a lease and because we've been working quietly behind the scenes with the builder, the city, the fire marshal, the building inspector, and the Board of Architectural Review, it's just been a really long, complicated process getting to the point where we can now say this is absolutely potentially going to happen. But it's a very large undertaking for a company that's still as modest as we are, so we really need financial support."
Although the building, built in 1903, is in good shape structurally, it still needs quite a bit of work, including sprinklers, HVAC, floors, windows, and roof repairs. Nearly three times the size of the Playhouse's current space, the building will house two theaters including a cabaret-style space downstairs (similar to their current space) and a more traditional mezzanine-style theater upstairs. In addition, there will be a workshop and office areas, and they plan to collaborate with other companies.
To help raise money, Enright is turning to private donors. "There are grants available, but you really have to have a good bit of community buy-in before you start to see some major foundation grants," she says. If they aren't able to raise the funds, Enright admits she's not sure what will happen.
"Making a move from east of the Cooper after 10 years into a renovated warehouse space, it opens up an amazing potential. It changes lots of things for our company," Enright says. "But at the same time, any change is always scary for people, so what we're looking for is people who get the vision of how cool it would be to renovate not only this property but what a change it's going to make for the entire look and feel of Woolfe Street."
Enright hopes that the Village Playhouse's loyal audiences won't abandon the company when it leaves the 'burbs. "We're very cognizant of not losing the audience we have, because we really need them to come with us," she says. "Ten years of buy-in isn't anything we're interested in losing."
At the same time, she expects to reach an entirely new audience downtown. "If our demographic changes, then yes, there's the potential that we might be able to do different kinds of works ... The fit will be different. There will be the opportunity to do some pieces that maybe wouldn't have fit in the suburbs that will now fit."