According to an old saying, good things come to those who wait.
For Gamut Theatre Group, the wait has been long, but the good things are here, and they’re in abundance.
After five years of planning, fundraising and construction, Gamut last month officially opened the Gamut Theatre Education Center, featuring the Alexander Grass Second Stage. The center is part of the final phase of the theater’s renovation of its downtown home, fully converting the historic building on N. 4th Street that was originally constructed as the First Church of God.
Purchased in 2013, the building’s initial renovations focused on the main stage, lobby, classrooms and support spaces for costumes, sets and props. After the mainstage opened in November 2015, the focus shifted to additional fundraising for the Education Center. The Alexander Grass Foundation sponsored the Second Stage during the initial renovations, but additional fundraising was necessary to complete important facility upgrades.
An official ribbon cutting was held last month at the side door to the theater, which is the new entrance to the Education Center.
In addition to the Second Stage, the 10,000-square-foot Education Center includes a new, ADA-compliant entrance, an elevator, classroom improvements, a digital projector and screen, and learning areas for costumes, sets, lighting and sound.
“We wanted the Education Center to be a teaching/learning space for students,” said Executive Director Melissa Nicholson. “This is a very simple, hard-to-mess-up space. Students will be able to design lights with an iPad and plug in their own devices for sound. There are some things they can learn about sound equalizing and lighting design, but it’s much simpler and easier to use than traditional equipment.”
Long-time Gamut colleague Lynne Kay Porter from Fairfield University designed the space, while local artist Jacintha Clark, through Sprocket Mural Works, painted a floor-to-ceiling wall mural.
“The mural invokes the feeling of being inside a storybook, but not necessarily a children’s storybook,” Nicholson said. “Audience members feel like a part of the story, with sunshine behind you that turns into a dark night to focus in on the stage.”
Even the ceiling has been considered and is filled with a sky full of stars.
The Second Stage enables Gamut to be more flexible in its use of the space. Popcorn Hat Players, Gamut’s children’s theater, will primarily use the Second Stage, as will the more informal, educational “Stage Door Series” and some classes. Last month, the first show to use the Second Stage was the innovative “Choose Your Own Play: Hijacked!”
“Prior to the availability of the Second Stage, smaller performances were held in the Gamut lobby,” Nicholson said. “The new space seats about 75 people. It holds more than the reception lobby but less than main stage.”
Nicholson also hopes the Education Center will be another space that smaller community groups will be able to use.
“A lot of people come to us wanting to use the main stage, and it’s difficult because of the programming,” she said. “This space doesn’t have as much nighttime usage. It can also be cost prohibitive to use large spaces downtown. It’s part of our mission in serving the community to offer something more reasonable for smaller groups that may need a space.”
One partnership has already developed between Gamut and The Capital Area School for the Arts (CASA). This summer, Gamut used some CASA classrooms for its summer programs. Next year, CASA will hold its midyear performances at Gamut. There are also plans in progress for internships for students and other ways to partner.
Some exterior work remains on the agenda. But, now that the internal renovations are complete, Gamut staff is able to focus completely on their core mission.
“What’s really attractive about reaching this finish line is we’re not finishing growing,” said Artistic Director Clark Nicholson. “We are now able to focus on programming and what we do here. We’ve been focused on modifying the physical space for years.”
To that end, Gamut staff has been working with its board on short- and long-term strategic planning.
“In many ways, the opening is just the beginning,” said Melissa Nicholson. “It’s nice to turn our excitement to what we’re meant to do—our programming.”
Gamut Theatre is located at 15 N. 4th St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.gamuttheatre.org.
Photograph courtesy of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC.