Vineyard Playhouse renovations under way

Auston McCormick works on the first floor deck of The Vineyard Playhouse addition. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The Vineyard Playhouse is growing. The Vineyard Haven theater center broke ground several weeks ago for a new addition to its staid, colonial home on Church Street.

Playhouse producer and artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo and board president Gerry Yukevich each smiled broadly as they stood on the new first floor deck, still open to the sky, last week. “It is so nice to see the old, frail Playhouse be strengthened and improved for the future,” Dr. Yukevich said.

For many years one had to walk with great care in the tiny backyard of The Playhouse. There were almost always stacks of old scenery flats and construction materials awaiting another trip to the stage or a final journey to the dump. Now the property has no backyard.

In its place, The Playhouse is adding a two-story addition. There will be a workshop and new bathrooms on the ground floor and a new elevator. The new second floor will contain dressing rooms, a green room, and staff bathrooms. The expansion will allow for a more efficient and practical use of the old building once it is renovated, part two of the renovation plan.

The old stairs to the second-floor theater and the late-addition bathrooms have been stripped off of the 1830s building that has been a Methodist Meeting House and a Masonic Lodge. A foundation has been poured, filling the space that was the backyard. The first and second floor decks are in place and the walls are framed. Steel I-beams support the second floor.

The Playhouse celebrates its 30th anniversary this year – 30 years of growth as an organization without a corresponding growth in its facilities, until now. There have been incremental improvements to the building over the years: new seats 20 years ago, upgrades to the electrical system, lighting changes, air conditioning, an elevator, and new bathrooms, but never a project of this magnitude.

This stage in The Playhouse’s physical growth began last year with new windows and the replacement of the old rotting siding with custom milled clapboards on three sides of the building, and a much-needed sprinkler system to protect the aged wooden structure.

Care was taken to maintain the historic quality of the building. “We are conscious of our role as a caretaker of this great community building and intend to preserve it for future generations,” Ms. Munafo said. “The addition’s scheduled finish is the first of July at which time the 2012 summer season will begin.”

Except for the changes that must be made to the theater space to accommodate the new addition, flipping the seats from a western orientation to an eastern one, among others, most of the planned renovation of the old building’s interior will be accomplished later, as time and financial resources allow, according to Ms. Munafo. Those changes will include a renovated theater space, a larger lobby, a new box office, and for the first time, an office, all in the old building.

Ms. Munafo said that the theater’s board of directors officially launched its capital campaign, “A Time to Act,” in 2010. She said that the money raised to date is funding most of the current construction, more than $600,000. She added that an equal amount will be required to renovate the old interior and to improve the theater with new seating, lighting, and audio equipment.

“In a way, The Playhouse serves a mission similar to the original purpose of the Methodist Meeting House,” an obviously pleased Dr. Yukevich said. “We try to involve the community in artistic, moral, social, and political issues that are of concern in our current world. Excellent theater does just that. It will be a tremendous pleasure to see it happening in a much improved facility.”