After watching a performance of American Buffalo in Chicago about 8 years ago, as we exited into the lobby, we saw a series of overhanging tickets suggesting ways we, the audience, could contribute to the company. Those tickets read, as I remember, “$15 – a case of toilet paper; $40 – copier paper for a month; $200 – intern salary for a month; $2,000 – sponsor the next production,” and so on. The company invited patrons to tear off a ticket, write a check, and hand it in at the box office. We went for the copier paper.
Last year, a Keegan patron, seeing the state of their Church Street Theatre bathroom, responded as if Keegan had a lobby ticket saying “fix our bathroom, please.” But instead of making a donation, the patron called Jeff Stoiber of Stoiber + Associates, and with that call put into motion the relationship between Stoiber and Keegan which will result, in 2013, in a new theatre at their Church Street location. And, yes, the bathrooms will be remodeled and more added.
After a 2 year development process, Stoiber and project architect Rebecca Griffith have designed a two-story theater with a capacity of 117, with lobbies on both floors. A glass atrium. A basement rehearsal room, classroom, bulk storage area, green room, dressing rooms, bathrooms, one shower and a washer and dryer.
On the first floor, a staging area behind the stage, with an elephant door to move large set pieces into the theater. On the second floor, a mezzanine lobby with entrance to the theater.
The project meets a lot of objectives: better legroom for customers, better lighting and sound, better temperature control, better accessibility to people with disabilities, and of course, more bathrooms for both patrons and performers.
“They have done an amazing job listening to our needs and coming up with a design,” Keegan Artistic Director Mark Rhea says, speaking of Jeff Stoiber and his staff. “And the design is so smart and beautiful.”
The cost will be $4 million, which includes purchase of the property (which is still under negotiations at this time). Keegan has already raised half of the capital. To raise the additional funds, Keegan Theatre has created the In Good Company campaign where, for as little as $100, supporters can one day look at the shining new venue and know they played their part. And, with typical good humor, Keegan is auctioning off naming rights not only to the new seats, but, yes, to those toilets.
Where, we wondered, will Keegan produce during the construction period?
“For now the plan is to produce around as much of the construction as we can,” Rhea says. “We are not sure about performing out of house, but we have discussed the idea of possible co-productions with other folks to balance our season, if we feel it is necessary. At this time we haven’t reached out to other companies, it’s just an idea we have been tossing around. We do anticipate four to six months of being dark.”
Stoiber, who moved to the area after graduating from Ohio State in 1977 and lives in the district with his family, told us “This has been a very enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding project for us,” And there is a side benefit to being an architect for a theater the caliber of Keegan.
“As a result of the project we have gotten to see many of their performances and the behind the scenes efforts and are very impressed,” the architect says. “That has caused us to feel more emotionally attached to this project than we might in some other cases.”
While all the work on the new theatre goes on, Keegan’s designers are busy transforming Church Street Theatre into the Kit Kat Club for their production of Cabaret with 2012 DCTS Audience Choice winner Paul Scanlon as Emcee and Maria Rizzo as Sally Bowles, both featured in Keegan’s award winning production of Spring Awakening.