After a six-month, $1.2 million renovation to the former United Church of Putney, the Next Stage Theater swung open its doors. The pews have been replaced with raised theater seating, the tin ceiling has been restored and the building is fully accessible.
"I couldn't have imagined that we would have come this far this fast," says Next Stage Arts co-founder Barry Stockwell. "But this is what I had in mind when I signed on."
Built in 1841, the United Church of Putney closed in 2009 due to declining involvement. The Putney Historical Society then agreed to take over the building.
Stockwell, and the other founding members started Next Stage Arts Project, and soon began talking about transforming the church into a theater.
Programming during the theater's opening included the Putney Central School Chorus, a workshop performance for the world premiere of a classical music piece by the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, and The GrooveBarbers, an a capella group from New York.
Billy Straus, another one of the founding members of Next Stage Arts Project, says the group took the project on knowing the 174-year-old building needed work, but also realizing the opportunity they had.
"We saw in the bones of this building a home from which we could pursue our mission of connecting people," he says. "That's really at the core what this project is about."
Next Stage Arts Project Executive Director Maria Basescu says the nonprofit organization that was formed to develop and run the theater wants to present a wide range of programming in the new space.
And she says Next Stage will work with schools in the region to have visiting artists present their art and ideas to area children.
"It's not just about providing access to great cultural opportunities for those kids now," says Basescu. "It's cultivating their relationship to arts and culture and community so that they're going to carry that forward into the future."
In the coming months Next Stage will present rock-and roll and gospel music, a theater-in-residence project with The Apron Theater Company and a storytelling event.