Playhouse Launches Campaign

The home of the Vineyard Playhouse stood strong through nearly two centuries of Vineyard life. Leaders and friends of this small professional theatre want to ensure it stands secure for centuries to come.

Built in 1833 on a pasture donated by Capt. William Daggett, the Playhouse wears the scars of time. A survey of the building reveals rotting, chipping and holes.

"It looks like somebody didn't do anything for 20 years," Playhouse managing director Josh Sommer said. Besides cosmetic paint jobs, no major work has been completed on the outside of the building since the Masons renovated the house in 1895.

The Vineyard Playhouse board of directors launched a $500,000, three-year capital campaign this month to repair and renovate the outside structure of the historic building. The money will provide for a large-scale renovation, which includes blasting, sanding, patching and painting. Window replacement also tops the list of priorities.

"We need to fix up the exterior so that it looks like the gem it is," said Gerry Yukevich, chairman of the capital campaign.

Chipping, rotting and weathering to the structure do not simply detract from the aesthetics of the site. Paul Munafo, board of directors member and "Mr. Fix-it," said the need for repair is imperative. Time is of the essence.

While the campaign spans three years, the theatre company will use the money as soon as it is received. The company already has installed a new sound and lighting system which will be paid for with money collected during the campaign.

"It will give us tremendous theatrical possibilities," Mr. Sommers said of the new system.

Exterior projects will be tackled in a piecemeal fashion until completion.

"This way, we won't need to shut down the theatre for a long period of time," said M.J. Munafo, Playhouse producer and artistic director.

When the Playhouse claimed this building in 1982, the upstairs lodge room became an intimate theatre, the stage just a few feet from the 120-seat audience. Several rooms downstairs became the dressing room. The layout forces actors to sneak up the same stairs audience members use in order to reach the stage. Crew members control lights from a director's booth behind the stage instead of in the rear of the audience.

Despite these quirks and unique challenges, the company is wholly committed to remaining in this spot. The building yields an intimacy between actors and spectators that could not be replicated at another site.

"You can actually feel the breath of the actor," Mrs. Munafo said.

Besides that, the company feeds off the energy this historical site exudes.

"There is a philosophical link between the building and the purpose of the building now. There is a spiritual dimension," Mr. Yukevich said.

Repairs come at no small cost, particularly given guidelines for the restoration of historic buildings.

"The historical community stipulates that repairs must be done to the traditions of the time," said Mr. Yukevich.

The Playhouse board of directors launched this special campaign to tackle large, one-time costs exceeding the annual budget of the theatre.

"It would be very hard to do this sort of thing without 100 per cent of the board," said Josh Sommers, managing director of the Playhouse. During the campaign's kick-off gala, the board itself committed $75,000 to the fundraising goal.

Working with a $367,000 annual budget, the Playhouse struggles to meet production costs while adequately paying the salaries and housing costs of the season's professional actors. Being a small professional theatre, the Playhouse lures Broadway actors and actresses for productions during the season. Off-season, the company attracts community members talented and brave enough to step onto the stage.

Trying to keep ticket costs low while maintaining quality standards, the theatre uses every cent it earns in ticket sales. Friends and local businesses contribute one-third of the annual budget, but Mrs. Munafo said that percentage needs to be closer to two-thirds.

A substantial price tag stands between the company and its goal of serving and educating the community. An even greater cost prevents the building's exterior from reflecting the energy and creativity produced inside.

"We want to embellish rather than detract from the purpose of the theatre. Everyone will be so happy when this building looks the way it should," Mrs. Munafo said.

To do that, the company asks community members to reach deep into their pockets.

"M.J. does such a spectacular job of maintaining high ideals. We need to improve the pedestal on which those efforts rest," Mr. Yukevich said.