It’s been 180 years since the Vineyard Playhouse building was first built on Church street in Tisbury. For the past three years, the playhouse staff and board of directors have been hard at work ensuring that it stands another two centuries. Construction is scheduled to wrap this week on the downstairs portion of the two-story building, allowing the playhouse to invite people in for the first time since 2011.
“It’s nice to have part of our home completed,” executive artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo told the Gazette. Construction on the upstairs of the theatre, which contains the stage, will pause in July and August and resume in the fall. A full slate of programming in the downstairs lobby, however, is on tap for the summer season.
Lobby Live! concerts begin next Tuesday evening; coffee chats are scheduled for Thursday mornings; and four gallery showings will take place throughout the summer, with the first opening on July 6.
Ms. Munafo was initially hoping for a full summer 2013 opening, but is now aiming for summer 2014. Restoration, as opposed to straightforward construction, “takes a little more thought and time,” she said.
Board of directors chairman Dr. Gerald Yukevich said the theatre had never been properly restored since 1833, meaning a new foundation had to be laid, more basement space added and the interior completely gutted.
“Every day was a surprise,” contractor Jim Glavin of Deca Construction said last week. Mr. Glavin had never worked on a theatre design before starting on the playhouse. The initial design for the facility was prepared by MacNelly Cohen Architects.
“It brings a lot more into play that certainly a residence, or even . . . your average commercial job,” Mr. Glavin said. “Sound, acoustics, lighting — I’ve really enjoyed the project.”
Mr. Glavin incorporated historic touches into the work. The interior trim of the building is made of old-growth cypress logged in Georgia in the late 1800s. Many of the logs sunk during their travels down southern rivers and were only recently raised.
“It’s a pretty wood to work with,” Mr. Glavin said. “You’re not going to find it in a lumberyard.”
Mr. Glavin’s construction efforts will pause over the summer, but fund-raising for the playhouse’s capital campaign, A Time To Act, continues. The campaign was launched in 2010 with the goals of funding the renovation and restoration of the building, as well as securing actor housing and establishing a maintenance and reserve fund. As of this week, about $1.7 million has been raised for the project, including a recent $100,000 capital grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The playhouse is about $500,000 shy of its goal, Ms. Munafo said.
“We’re building this to last for many generations of Vineyarders and Vineyard visitors,” Mr. Yukevich said. “So fund-raising is constant, and stimulated by some wonderful people.”
Part of the fund-raising focused on naming opportunities within the new facility. About half of the stairs leading up to the main theatre having been named, and chairs within the theatre are still available as well. The lobby will be dedicated to Island arts patron Marilyn Meyerhoff, and the gallery space in the lobby will be called the Vineyard Playhouse Arts Space in honor of Claudia Miller. Longtime playhouse supporter Olga Hirshhorn lends her name to the box office space.
“She’s been our champion since the beginning and instrumental in bringing many people to the theatre,” Ms. Munafo said of Ms. Hirshhorn.
And the playhouse’s summer kicks off with a fundraiser sure to bring in crowds. Actors Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen will perform A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center on Tuesday evening.
“What a way to open our season!”, Ms. Munafo said.
Ms. Munafo had the idea to ask Mr. Danson and Ms. Steenburgen about a performance several years ago, but the pair was unavailable at the time. Last year she was approached by Sandy Pimentel, coordinator for the Possible Dreams auction, which auctions off one-of-a-kind experiences for charity. Mrs. Pimentel remembered Ms. Munafo’s original idea and thought it would fit well as a Dream. Mr. Danson and Ms. Steenburgen agreed. At last year’s auction six front row seats to the performance and an evening of light drinks and appetizers with the couple was the top item of the night. Laure Sudreau-Rippe bid $17,000 for the item.
The original plan was to have the performance at the newly finished playhouse, but because of the lengthy construction, the event was moved to the performing arts center. Still, that meant a larger audience for the show, and more financial help from ticket sales.
“With them contributing their time to perform, the money that will benefit the theatre is going to make a huge impact for us [reaching] our goal,” Ms. Munafo said. “They want to see the biggest success from their efforts, and it’s just so amazing to me that they’re doing it.”
Because the playhouse is a union theatre, Ms. Munafo had to apply for a special permit to stage the larger show. That, too, received approval.
“So it was nice,” Ms. Munafo said. “Everything fell into place.”