By Jesse Wood
June 18, 2014. Plans for the proposed 122-seat FireHouse Theatre project in Blowing Rock were unveiled yesterday afternoon at Town Hall, and a grand opening date has been tentatively set for May 1, 2015.
Last fall, the Ensemble Stage Board of Directors notified the Blowing Rock Town Council of its interest in turning the old, town-owned fire station on Park Avenue into the theatre production company’s new, permanent home. Since then stakeholders of this private-public partnership have been working diligently to make this a reality.
Now funds must be raised.
Ensemble Stage Vice President and Project Chair Bryan Summers said time is of the essence because the Blowing Rock School auditorium, where Ensemble Stage holds its productions, will be renovated beginning in September. Summers said its imperative that the project raise an initial $500,000 in August to begin moving forward with the project; show the town that it can fund this project; and be on schedule to open before the 2015 season begins.
Ensemble Stage is coming on its fifth year, a time in which grant funds are available to theatre companies, Summers said. He mentioned that other communities are aware of the five-year grant period and have expressed interest in Ensemble Stage moving to those communities.
Organizers have released a budget and schedule on the project’s website at http://www.firehousetheatre.net/.
$500,000 –Construction Hard Costs
$250,000 – Furniture, Fixtures, Equipment
$150,000 – Soft Costs – Design, Engineering, Fees & Permits
$100,000 – Contingency Fund
$350,000 annually – sustainability, break-even salaries, utilities, maintenance, insurance, marketing, box office sales, memberships, show sponsors and grants
FireHouse Theatre Project Schedule
June 16, 2014 – Raise the Curtain – Kick Off
Aug. 15, 2014 – Raised $500,000 for construction
Sept. 8, 2014 – Submit final plans for Town Council’s approval
Nov. 3, 2014 – Construction begins
Feb. 15, 2015 – FireHouse Theatre Project fully funded
May 1, 2015 – FireHouse Theatre’s Grand Opening
Sponsorship opportunities were also announced. For $500,000, you can name the theatre. For $250,000, you can name the auditorium, and for $150,000, you can name the lobby.
The fire department moved out of the fire station in 2009 whenever its new station was constructed along U.S. 321. Since then, the Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation department has been utilizing the space for storage and maintenance space.
Since its inception in 2009, Ensemble Stage has shared the Blowing Rock School auditorium with Mountain Home Music, Blowing Rock School and various religious organizations. Last fall in a letter to council, Ensemble Stage Director Gary Smith said that was “no longer a viable option.”
“Unfortunately, due to scheduling logistics, auditorium condition, and patronage growth, that arrangement is no longer a viable option,” Smith wrote. “In order for Ensemble Stage to, not only contine to grow, but also to sustain itself as a performing arts entity, we are forced to look for a new, more exclusive home.”
Summers said that the new home would allow for bigger productions, which would then bring in more revenue. He also mentioned that the Ensemble Stage is “a step up above street performers” when it performs in the Blowing Rock School auditorium.
Ensemble Stage’s “Tuna Does Vegas” begins on June 21. Summers said that play was selected because it doesn’t really require a set. It only has two actors.
If all goes as planned, Ensemble Stage won’t be limited any longer, and Summers said he likens the project to the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va.
In February, the Blowing Rock Town Council agreed to move forward with this project as long as Ensemble Stage, which is debt free, had the ability to raise the funds to complete the renovations and operate the theatre into the future.
Preliminary plans include turning the old firehouse into a 125-seat auditorium with a stage and theatrical lighting and sound, a lobby, restrooms, concession area and box office on the lower level, while the upper level would include a rehearsal room, “green room,” dressing rooms, tech booth and office.