Pressed for space: Playhouse plans for expansion
The Ridgefield Playhouse is feeling some growing pains.
“The bands are eating in hallways. We’re working out of closets. It’s ridiculous,” said Playhouse Executive Director Allison Stockel.
Feeling strained for space, staff members said that the theater is looking to expand its operation into the office space currently occupied by the Board of Education.
That office encircles part of the Playhouse’s current backstage and lobby, so the expansion would give the theater more room for both patrons and performers.
Stockel told The Press that while the Playhouse has expanded its programming in recent years, the lobby and backstage areas haven’t really kept pace.
“We’ve done pretty well at keeping our space,” Stockel said. “We now have a backstage. But other than that, we haven't really expanded, except for our programming.”
First Selectman Rudy Marconi shared a story that highlighted the Playhouse’s space problem at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Oct. 11.
When the Playhouse featured a group of Shanghai acrobats this past March, Marconi recalled, the theater was so pressed for space that the production team had to arrange a dressing room off-site for the performers to change in — staff would then drive the performers back to the theater to go onstage.
As it turned out, “the actors were not inhibited,” Marconi said, and they decided to change in the hallway behind the theater.
“The employees were very surprised,” he said with a laugh.
Stockel said the Playhouse first considered the expansion after the VNA moved out of the Richard Venus building (the “old high school,” as many remember it) to its current location at 27 Governor Street.
“The Board of Ed would move into the Annex,” Marconi explained. “They originally wanted to move into the Venus building, but that would have cost well over a million dollars.”
The expansion would help in two areas — the lobby and the backstage area.
“In order to continue to do our work, we need to expand our lobby,” Stockel said. “It’s difficult for us to have 500 kids in a lobby that can hold 150, maybe 250 people. So it’s not a great patron experience.”
What about the backstage?
“We wouldn’t have space for set-building,” Stockel said, “but we would have room, for example, for changing rooms.”
Stockel said the Playhouse is planning a $3.5-million capital campaign to cover the costs of the expansion.
However, the final cost is still unclear.
“We have not embarked on a capital plan, since we don’t have a lease in hand yet,” Stockel said.
Julie Paltauf, the Playhouse’s financial director, told the selectmen the Playhouse currently pays $43,000 per year to the town. With the new layout, it would pay $103,682 annually — $68,000 in rent, $35,000 in utility costs.
The town hopes to pay for any relocations with increased revenue from the expansion.
“The Board of Selectmen discussed allocating whatever additional revenue is generated in the building to cover the cost of any town-incurred expense for relocation,” Marconi told The Press this week.
“If the Playhouse increases its rent by $60,000 a year, our debt service on the fit-up of the other locations will not exceed $60,000 a year — this is our goal at the present time.”
Chef’s Warehouse also wants to expand into the second floor of the former RVNA space in the Venus building.
“Chef’s Warehouse wants to take the whole second floor of the RVNA,” Marconi said.
That would entail moving the smaller tenants in the south wing of the Venus building — the Youth Services Bureau and Loosen Up Massage Therapy — to the lower level of the building.
The selectmen seemed optimistic that the Playhouse’s plan wouldn’t create an interference.
“It’s certainly been an asset to the community,” Marconi said.