Like a set change between acts, the Vineyard Playhouse has been in a feverish state of transformation this winter. Now, with construction ahead of schedule on the new $2 million expansion and renovation of the Vineyard Haven venue, the playhouse board of directors has voted to continue construction through the summer, while kicking its fund-raising effort into overdrive. As a result, there will be no performances this summer in the historic 1833 meeting house, but Vineyard Playhouse executive director MJ Bruder Munafo said it’s for the best.
“Walking through the building a couple weeks ago with [board president Gerry Yukevich] and the contractor, all of a sudden it hit us that it didn’t make any sense to patch the building up, open up for the summer and then go back to work,” she said. “It would cost us much more money and time in the end, and the momentum of the builders is so huge right now.”
Now Ms. Munafo hopes for a more auspicious reopening by the end of the year.
“2012 is our 30th anniversary,” she said yesterday. “It would be perfect. It would be perfect to reopen the building, dedicate the stage to Patricia Neal and do at least one performance on it this year.”
Meanwhile, the organization will continue with its outdoor Shakespeare and children’s programming and find alternate venues for its other summer events, such as the popular Monday night staged readings. But the push to complete the building on an accelerated schedule comes with a catch.
“We don’t have the money to complete the building,” said Ms. Munafo. The nonprofit has raised $1 million already, but will need another $1 million to finish. Dr. Yukevich said the time has come for the board to go into “polite commando mode” with donors and friends of the organization.
“We’re going to have to make personal visits to some of our old friends and new friends to explain that this is the time to build a future for the Island’s best theatre,” he said.
Yesterday Ms. Munafo toured the grounds of the gutted building and pictured a more comfortable future. Where dressing rooms, a box office and showers all vied for space on a crowded first floor, a capacious lobby with gallery space and administrative offices will take their place. In the new addition to the theatre, a makeshift outdoor set workshop has been brought in from the cold; a second floor winch system will replace the unpleasant tradition of hauling set pieces upstairs, and a proper green room will give actors a space of their own. As part of its fund-raising effort, Ms. Munafo said the organization will be approaching donors about naming rights for the new spaces.
As an actor himself, Dr. Yukevich is grateful for the creature comforts the new facility will provide.
“The way it was before, the actors would all be in the dressing room downstairs,” he said. “Then when their cue came they had to sprint upstairs and the temptation was always to do it at the last minute, which meant you arrived on stage for your entrance out of breath, which might not be appropriate for the play if it’s a poignant moment.”
In touring the building, history is apparent at every turn. A pile of coal from the turn of the last century sits in one corner of a basement that is supported by uneven boulders and unadorned tree trunk supports. Horsehair plaster peels from the wall of the theatre that dates back to the Jackson administration.
While it has always had its charm, Dr. Yukevich said that the revamped space will be worthy of the world-class talent the organization attracts.
“When you were performing you sometimes felt like you were in a compromised situation,” he said. “It had a lot of soul and a lot of spunk and there were courageous aspects to it, but you don’t want these actors to just say, ‘Well, I like the spirit of the place.’ It’s nice to give them accommodation that they deserve. We won’t be apologizing for our space anymore.”
But first the organization has work to do. With the stepped-up building schedule, Ms. Munafo’s life of late has been one dominated by grant writing and appeals to the friends of the theatre. A fundraiser in Boston is planned for March 31.
“MJ and her team of actors have been putting forward outstanding artistic products for a long time and to have them housed and showcased in a state-of-the-art playhouse on a stage named for Patricia Neal, it’s kind of a dream come true,” said Dr. Yukevich. “We’re now at the stage where we’re trying to make it come true.”