A decade-long dream will finally become a reality Saturday. Officials with the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company will celebrate the grand opening of their $6.3 million second stage and community center.
The Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm is just off route 100 on a five-acre parcel that, to be honest, is easy to miss.
Lesley Koenig, the theater company’s managing director, nods. “It’s tucked away, how cool is that?”
She says the decision to locate the new performance space on what was formerly the Walker family farmstead, just up the road from the theater company’s white columned playhouse, was carefully planned.
The new venue stands behind two large silos, two barns and an old farmhouse.
“You build a brand new building in Weston, Vermont, yet you don’t do anything to change the beauty of the place,” says Koenig.
The wood siding, metal roof and bucolic red coloring are all designed to compliment the historic farmstead. But the new 8,000 square foot space is anything but rustic. Inside, she says it's state of the art with seating for up to 150.
“It’s a gorgeous space; it’s like a wooden jewel box!” gushes Koenig.
Contractors were busy this week testing the new lighting and sound systems, and installing sprung flooring designed to absorb the shock of dancers.
Bread Loaf Corporation’s Ryan Ahear, who has supervised construction, says it’s the most technically demanding project he’s ever worked on.
“So you have this theater where you have this intimate situation, the lights go down, you have this particular scene, you don’t want to hear an actress or actor in the back talking about their personal life, or hear a plate smash. It’s similar to building a hospital where you have to contain certain areas.” explains Ahearn. “So it’d be like the theater would be like our surgical room.”
He says the walls are extra thick and they used acoustic caulking. Larger than normal duct-work was also installed to reduce noise.
He says consultants helped them fine-tune the complex acoustics and lighting requirements.
“If you go into the theater you can see the ceiling itself has multiple angles, they’re all set five degrees, three degrees, all to pitch the sound in a certain way. So the whole building is thought of as an acoustical instrument.”
Koenig says they’ve already been approached by a Los Angeles-based producer who thinks the space could be an ideal sound stage for making films and commercials. "So there are all these new and exciting possibilities."
The theater company, which was founded in 1937, will continue to showcase large productions in its 300-seat, Greek-Revival playhouse. But Koenig says that space, a former church that was turned into a theater in 1935, is too costly to heat during the colder months, so will remain a summer venue.
The new Walker Farm playhouse will provide a year round, more intimate venue that will be available to the public when not in use by the theater company.
“So you can imagine weddings, events, film series, reading series, anything can happen in there," says Koenig, "It’s completely flexible." There’s no one place the stage has to be; you can have no stage; or you can have anything you want.”
The new building was paid for thanks to an ongoing $13.5 million dollar capital campaign begun in 2007. Koenig says they still have about two-and-a-half million dollars to raise.
Besides the new performance space at Walker Farm, Koenig says nearly a million dollars from that fund paid for improvements to their older playhouse, which was severely flooded during Tropical Storm Irene.
She says they’ve also created an endowment to support their educational programs and set aside funds to develop new productions among other things.
Artistic Director Malcolm Ewen, a founding member of the Weston Playhouse, says they’ve been wanting this new venue for so long that it’s thrilling to finally see the finished product.
“It’s like a fantastic dream!” says Ewen.
“You don’t think you’ll ever be able to raise enough money,” he admits. But because of all the hard work over the past several years, he says this will create a very exciting new chapter in the Weston Playhouse season.
Ewen, Tim Fort and Steve Stettler, Weston’s founding artistic directors, are all retiring at the end of next summer, after 30 years at the helm.
Ewen says that while the upcoming season will be his last he’s excited to have a chance to plan programming in the new venue for it’s first season which he hopes will help create a model for years to come.
The public is invited to a grand opening of the Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm Saturday, Sept. 23 at 2 p.m. with tours of the new space, food and entertainment.
Disclosure: Weston Playhouse is a VPR underwriter.