Ridgefield Theater Barn to expand by 60 percent: ‘A beautiful community effort’

RIDGEFIELD — A storytelling program similar to National Public Radio’s Moth Radio Hour will soon be a regular part of Ridgefield Theater Barn’s new “black box” theater.

“We have one of the mentors and teachers for the Moth Radio Hour running adult storytelling workshops and they do perform those live. They're called story slams,” said Pamme Jones of Ridgefield, the theater barn’s executive director. “It’s the art form of storytelling. It's a whole subculture that's amazing.”

The black box performance space is just one new part of the nearly 60 percent expansion planned for the Ridgefield Theater Barn.

The nonprofit organization, at 37 Halpin Lane, will increase in size from about 4,630 square feet to around 7,300 square feet. The work is expected to begin later this month and be completed in six to nine months.

While the theater barn’s main theater, which seats 75, will not be expanding, “we will be gaining additional space in a small black box theater. This is going to improve the functionality of our space so immensely that the ability for us to increase our programming and our performances is exponential,” Jones said.

Currently, whenever a new show is being performed, the theater barn has to essentially shut itself down, due to space restrictions, she said.

“In the space that we have now, in order for us to put up a new show, we have to empty out the theater because we don't have anywhere to build or store anything,” Jones said. “When we do that, it means two things: One, there can be no revenue going on in the space; and two, it's not a safe space that children can be, due to the construction and painting.”

During those periods, “we lose an aggregate of five weeks a year just to build and produce the mainstage shows that we have,” Jones said.

After the expansion, the theater barn will have an entire woodshop, or “scene shop,” that will be level with the stage floor so that members of the theater barn can “constantly be working on the next show and then just wheel it into place, lock it down and keep going so we won't lose all that time,” she said.

She added the space would also be safe for children to perform and rehearse.

Additionally, there’ll be two new classrooms on the lower level.

One of them will be dedicated to the Ridgefield Theater Barn kids’ program, which runs year round.

A second classroom, called a community classroom, can be used internally for needs as they arise, but will also be a place where other organizations in town can hold meetings.

The expansion will also make it possible to start some new programs at the theater barn, Jones said.

Additionally, Ridgefield’s poet laureate Barb Jennes will run regular poetry workshops and poetry slams out of the new space, for both adults and children.

An improv and small cabaret shows will also be performed in the new space, and it can be a “home base” for Ridgefield Independent Film Festival’s performances, Jones said.

The expansion also includes adding administrative offices and patron bathrooms, updated dressing rooms, a lobby renovation and a bar and concession stand.

Jones said half the people who use the theater barn come from Ridgefield and the other 50 percent are from Fairfield and Westchester counties.

While the theater barn has undergone several renovations since it was incorporated in 1965, due to expanded community and programming needs, this new expansion was definitely needed, Jones said.

“There’s just an enormous amount of programming this community is supportive of and asking for,” she said. “We just can't fit it in, in the space that we have now.”

Capital campaign

Ridgefield Theater Barn, which rents its space from the town, has been raising money for the project for several years through a capital campaign.

Out of the $1.8 million cost of the project, about $250,000 is still needed to be raised.

“We're at $1.6 million,” Jones said.

Remaining expenses will pay for chairs for the black box and lobby areas, tables and chairs for the classrooms and a warming kitchen for caterers.

“The funding stream for the $1.8 million that we need came from federal, state, and municipal governments and private donors,” Jones said. “So it's really like a beautiful community effort and it really speaks to who we are.”

Jones said the theater barn provides many opportunities for all ages.

“We have plenty of professional actors and directors that we work with all of the time but we also are a great place for someone to dip their toe in the water to see if it's something that they want to do,” Jones said. “The different workshops and things that we provide for adults and children — that kind of expression and communal experience through an art form is going to be so vital to our healing as we emerge and start to live in this new reality of pandemic that will never probably ever go away.”

To contribute to Ridgefield Theater Barn’s capital campaign or track the progress of the expansion, visit ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org.