Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Open Stage, Re-Made: An expansion, a new look for Harrisburg’s venerable downtown theater.

“We’ve come a long way from our place at Jonestown Road,” said Anne Alsedek, co-founder of Open Stage of Harrisburg and the Alsedek Theatre School.

Some 34 years ago, Open Stage began as a kitchen table idea and turned into a theater school on Jonestown Road. It eventually situated itself as a 100-seat theater tucked beneath a parking garage in downtown Harrisburg. You may remember its humble façade across from the austere lobby, leading to the garage’s elevator.

Today, Open Stage’s new expansion impressively lights up the outside alley on Court Street, its revamped “Open Your Mind” logo sign glowing like an encouraging dare.

“We wanted a space that would be comfortable for audiences and engaging for artists,” said Producing Artistic Director Stuart Landon. “Our artists are our family.”

The outside walls facing the alley hold one of the city’s many murals—an abstract arrangement of multi-colored bubbles, triangles and paint strokes.

Harrisburg mixed media artist Ryan Spahr designed the mural. Combining Russian constructivism and Fauvism with an element of whimsy, Spahr strove to channel an abstract representation along with a free flow of thoughts and ideas.

“The color palette mirrors the re-branding of the theater,” he said. “I also wanted to play off of the shapes of the new logo and go with a more sleek, industrial design.”

Rep. Patty Kim, one of many VIPs to attend the ribbon-cutting, seemed astounded by the transformation.

“Who would’ve guessed that the deep bowels of a city garage could be so beautiful?” she said.

Just inside the main entry is a proper ticket window, replacing the former space’s small podium. A lobby sculpture features all the donors’ names from the 30/30 campaign’s fundraiser, etched into a 3-D wall hanging with pottery discs designed by Laura Ryan as the main medium.

Inside the next set of doors is St. Hilaire Lounge, which will be open six days a week and will serve as the venue for some of Open Stage’s more intimate performances. The black-and-white lounge’s bar is decorated with oversized bowls of citrus fruit, sending out a hipster vibe. Just beyond the ceiling’s track lighting are the leftover remnants of parking garage columns.

Regulars to Open Stage will still recognize one of the theaters, although the path to get there has changed. And just on the other side is a second stage—a black box theater with 60 seats. The new theater has the same theater-in-the-round format, complete with black folding chairs and walls, accented with industrial vents and cables overhead.

Board President Chris Baldrige cited the upcoming 35th anniversary as the driver for Open Stage’s transformation, as well as the decision to remain downtown.

“With the new black box and theatrical library, this is such a different experience from the prior space,” he said. “It’s all about breaking down walls.”

More spacious dressing rooms mean a more professional presentation for the actors, with enough room for 24 artists, bubble light mirrors and a plethora of hat and wig stands. Down the corridor is the Alexander Library, which is lined with books about theater, open for taking along or flopping into a chair to read right there.

Stepping into each backstage room feels like stepping into a box of crayons with its bold color choices. Navigating through each room—from the break room to the wardrobe room to the workshop—seems like a circular meander, which makes sense when you remember there are cars parking above your head.

“There aren’t too many theaters under a parking garage,” quipped architect Rich Gribble.

Although the space and logo have changed, Harrisburg can still rely on Open Stage to deliver quality performances, such as its two decades of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “A Christmas Carol,” plus theater education and training.

At the opening, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse thanked Open Stage for its role in “powering the revitalization in our city, bringing out our potential, and for providing excitement in the growing population in our community.”

“There’s no need to travel to New York City,” he said. “We have a little bit of Broadway right here.”

Open Stage is located at 25 N. Court St., Harrisburg. For more information, including ticket information, call 717-232-6736 or visit www.openstagehbg.com.

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