Essay: The Vineyard Playhouse to debut new theater in 2013

MJ Bruder Munafo, director of Walking the Volcano — Jaxon White

2012 marked the 30th anniversary of The Vineyard Playhouse and our most ambitious production to date — the complete restoration, renovation, and expansion of our historic theater building in downtown Vineyard Haven.

The Playhouse was built in 1833 as a Methodist meetinghouse and is one of few Island buildings that have been used continuously throughout its history for the purpose for which it was built — a community meeting place.

The building is owned by the 501(c) 3 nonprofit Vineyard Playhouse Company Inc., and the Board of Directors is actively raising the remaining funds needed to complete the project in order to re-open in 2013, just 20 years shy of the building’s bicentennial.

For a theater that has been “dark” since renovations began in November 2011, we’ve had a very busy year using other Island venues. At the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center, we staged “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play” in December 2011; and the premiere of Larry Mollin’s “The Screenwriter’s Daughter” in July.

At the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, we presented Monday Night Specials — our popular summer series of new work — from June until September. Outdoors at the Tisbury Amphitheater, instead of the usual one show, there were two full Shakespeare plays running in repertory in July and August. And of course our children’s programs continued — Summer Stars Theater Arts Camp at the Tashmoo Springs Building and The Fabulists every Saturday morning in the Amphitheater. In addition, the Playhouse collaborated with Featherstone in May with our stunning Art of Costumes exhibit; and with the Martha’s Vineyard Museum during their current exhibit, 100 Years of Theater on Martha’s Vineyard.

Plans for the future include a celebration for the re-opening of the Playhouse in 2013, and the dedications of the Patricia Neal Stage, the Marilyn Meyeroff lobby, and other spaces in the building.

The theater will continue to present a professional summer season of plays and all of its current summer offerings; and there will be after-school programs for children and teens, and constant theatrical activities all year round.

The new Playhouse will be a stellar structure that is fully accessible, energy efficient, and with all new systems that provide a comfortable and safe facility for audience and actors alike. During the theater’s off-season, the downstairs lobby will be perfect for community use for meetings, receptions, and parties. The lobby will also house a year-round art gallery. The upstairs theater will be used primarily for Playhouse productions, but we are also planning to host and present live musical events, films, speakers, poetry readings, and much more.

The Vineyard Playhouse will re-emerge as the vibrant and important cultural institution already treasured by so many in the Island community. We hope our efforts to restore and preserve this beautiful building will allow Vineyarders to gather here for generations to come. We have come this far with the valuable financial assistance of extremely generous key donors and important grants from the Tisbury Community Preservation Fund and other foundations. Our goal is to raise the remaining funds to complete all of the work in time to open this summer.

MJ Bruder Munafo is the artistic and executive director of The Vineyard Playhouse. For more information about the organization, visit