October 15, 2016

Pentangle plans major theater renovation

Photo by Nancy Nutile-McMenemy

The audience awaits the next scene of “CATS The Musical” in April at Woodstock Town Hall Theater, where Pentangle Arts Council is planning a major renovation.

WOODSTOCK — Pentangle Arts Council is planning a major renovation of the Woodstock Town Hall Theater, a project aimed at making the group’s overall operations financially sustainable over the long term.

The two-phase project is estimated at the lower end of the $2 million range, which includes interior improvements and an addition at the rear of the building. The timeline for the project is not set at this early stage.

Alita Wilson, Pentangle’s executive director, said the time has come for major upgrades, which include various efforts to make the theater more comfortable for all patrons, including ADA compliance.

Wilson said these kinds of improvements will make the theater easier for everyone to use and will help sustain and grow Pentangle’s programs, therefore fostering a stable financial future for the organization. Wilson, who grew up next door in the building that’s now the Blue Horse Inn, and whose children have participated in Pentangle productions, said she’s committed to seeing that process through.

“For us to be competitive as a performing arts organization, we need to have an aesthetically pleasing and accessible operation,” Wilson said. “The organization has had a very unstable history financially, and I don’t plan to go anywhere, and I’d like us to get to a place where we’re actually sustainable and able to grow.”

Pentangle will not seek taxpayer funding from the town for the project, she noted. The arts council rents the theater from the town, as it has for years.

“We are emphatic that we’re not going to the town to raise money for this project,” Wilson said. “This has to be raised privately.”

Pentangle received its village design review permit for the project this summer, and, since the town is its landlord, the group is in the process of getting the select board’s blessing. The organization discussed the project with the select board in September and is in the process of answering questions raised at that meeting.

Wilson said Pentangle will undergo a feasibility study for the project within the next six months, to identify Upper Valley funding sources for the project. Once that study is complete, she added, the timeline for the project will become clearer.

The interior renovation work includes replacing the seats in the theater, installing new stage drapes, adding a small wheelchair lift to the stage, creating a new concession area, rebuilding the ticket counter and installing more efficient stage lights.

The seats that will be replaced hold plaques bearing the names of donors who contributed to the theater’s last renovation several decades ago. Wilson said she’s open to working out a way for people to buy back their old theater seats or have their plaques back. She emphasized that issue will be treated very sensitively.

“I don’t want to forget that people worked really hard in the first renovation to save the theater,” she said.

The rear addition to the building will help improve the green room and will also make room for an elevator, which will replace the winding staircase that accesses the green room. Wilson said the winding, metal staircase has created problems in the past.

“It’s difficult for older people, it’s difficult for younger people,” she said.

In the current proposal, the rear addition is 14 feet wide and 41 feet long, Wilson said. She pointed out that improving the access at the rear of the building and the overall green room space will make Pentangle a more attractive option for rentals, a revenue stream which has been growing in recent years.

“I continue to look at pentangle as a multi-faceted organization,” Wilson said.

She said the planned renovation project will make it easier for Pentangle to diversify its programs and grow, adding that making the theater more accessible is key to those goals.

“We need all those components to keep us integrated into the fabric of the community and financially sustainable,” Wilson said.

Regarding the interior work in the project, Wilson said a new and larger concession stand will be created at the other end of the lobby. She noted the current concession stand is unsanitary and too small.

She said the new ticket stand and the new concession stand will be configured in a way that creates a smoother flow of customer traffic in the lobby.

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