By Lindsay Haislip
Despite financial challenges, the historic Prince Theatre on High Street is getting an interior makeover that will make it a more welcoming and spacious place for the local community to celebrate the arts.
Ron and Susan Kerns have owned the building since 1998, and invested a great deal into restoring it to what they believed it would have looked like when it was first built in the 1920’s, according to Executive Director of the theatre, Lucia Foster. When it came time for them to sell it in 2008, The Prince Theatre Foundation wanted to make sure that it was preserved as a theatre.
“Our non-profit is like many non-profits: a struggling non-profit,” said Foster, “We couldn’t afford to buy it on our own, but the couple had to sell it and we were concerned that somebody else would come along and buy it and not use it as a theatre. Since it’s such a historic treasure, we thought it was crucial to at least try to purchase the building.”
The foundation raised the money through a Capital Campaign, launched in 2008, to purchase and renovate the building. With the help of about 200 Capital Campaign donors, it raised enough money to begin the renovations.
“Most of those people live here locally,” said Foster, “and people donated anywhere from $25 up to more than $250,000. The Garfield family donated significantly more, and that donation gave them the opportunity to begin renovating the building.”
When the theatre opens during its grand re-opening event on the weekend of Sept 30-October 1, the Theatre will take on a new name as “The Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre.”
As far as the main projects that are being addressed with the renovation, the lobby is the main area of focus. “It was really a very narrow entrance,” said Foster, “and it just was not befitting of the type of community arts center that we feel that we are, so it was really a space issue.”
As a result, the foundation has knocked down the wall where the original lobby was and created a much larger entrance. The other project has been uncovering the original sloped floor of the building’s entrance, said Foster, which meets the current standards for the American Disabilities Act.
“It’s so nice to have a universal entrance and not restrict people or have to put out a ramp,” Foster said.
In addition, the project includes a separate box office for ticket sales, whereas before tickets were sold at a small desk in the lobby. There is a concessions area to the back of the lobby, rather than the previous “bar on wheels.” In the space where the lobby was before, there will be a small stage that is raised up from the main lobby floor.
“That we’ll use at certain points if we decide to have a littler performance in the main lobby itself,” said Foster. “This little mini stage area will be equip with sound and lighting ability so that we can mic it, or have a mini lecture or concert or something like that.”
While the renovation will be mostly completed by June, renovations will continue until the grand re-opening in September. By then, the original marquis, which is currently being restored by a company in Ohio, will be returned to the theatre.
So far, the biggest issue that the Foundation has faced with the renovation has been funding.
“It’s particularly challenging in our case because we are a non-profit that is already not flush with money, so unlike some other projects or businesses where they might be able to go to another fund and grab money, we just don’t have that anywhere else,” Foster said.
Overall, surrounding communities have been very supportive of the effort to renovate the Theatre because it is seen as such an important part of the community.
“I feel for a long time that Prince has done a great job helping to really enrich this community through our productions and our education and the types of performances that we’re able to put on our stage, but it’s a little bit deceptive, because from the front of the street, prior to the renovation, you couldn’t really tell that it was a strong, powerful community arts center,” she said.
Foster also stressed how much the foundation values Washington College students who attend shows, come to audition to be part of shows, support their friends, or participate in other activities that are happening at the theatre.
“We really consider the college community part of our community, so when we talk about being a Community Center for the Arts, it’s important to us that college students know that they’re a part of it,” she said.
The first production in the theatre will be “Arsenic and Old Lace”, which is scheduled to open on Friday, April 8. The renovations will be far from complete at that point, however it will be a good chance for those in attendance to see what is happening inside the theatre. The main part of the theatre has not been touched during the renovation process. Several WC students are in the play, including junior John Lesser, freshman Harris Allgeier, and recent graduate Hester Sachse 10’.
The Theatre truly is a valuable community entity that all member of the community can take advantage of.
March 25, 2011
Volume LXXXI Issue 19