After a spectacular $4.4 million renovation, the historic Keegan Theatre will reopen on June 27 for the first preview of Tennessee Williams classic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
“When theatergoers enter Keegan’s new space, I think they will be impressed that the intimacy, warmth and character of the building have remained,” says Mark Rhea, Keegan’s producing artistic director. “There are an array of new amenities, including full ADA accessibility, a new elevator, a state-of-the-art assisted listening system, five new restrooms, brand new seating with added leg room, and full service concessions.”
The theater, located at 1742 Church St NW, was built in 1905. Thanks to a major gift from an anonymous donor, Keegan purchased the DuPont Circle building in June 2013 and launched its “In Good Company” campaign to raise additional funds for the renovations.Designed by Stoiber & Associates with work done by local DC contractor thinkmakebuild, the renovated theater includes a new mezzanine, atrium and updated lobby spaces, which incorporate reclaimed wood from the original floors.
“Our venue is unique because we are located in a historic neighborhood and in the middle of a residential block. When planning the new design, we didn’t really compare ourselves to other theaters in the area. We wanted to maintain the historic value of the building and the intimacy of the theater, while enhancing the patron experience,” Rhea says. “Stoiber & Associates worked with the Historic Preservation Review Board throughout the design and planning stages of the project and I think that they did an incredible job in achieving their—and our—goals.”
Keegan was built and has thrived on a simple, passionate commitment to provide quality productions in an intimate setting, and the new design builds on that principle.
The renovations also included new classroom, rehearsal and community spaces, expanded backstage space to better accommodate production development and staging, and upgraded lighting, sound and rigging systems.
“Our new rehearsal room was a much-needed space. First and foremost, we can rehearse shows on-site while another production is running. This is a huge boost to our scheduling,” Rhea says. “All of the areas in the artist space will give us the flexibility to provide improved programming for our audiences.”
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was chosen to kick-off the first season of the renovated theater and Keegan’s 18th overall, because it has special meaning to Rhea. Not only was it the first show that Keegan ever produced (in 1997), but it was the show where his relationship with his now-wife took root.
Mark and Susan Rhea (Keegan’s associate artistic director) played the iconic roles of Brick and Maggie the last time Keegan mounted a production of the play in 2001.
“The show played in the U.S. and in Ireland to great acclaim, and it marked a turning point in our relationship,” he says. “To now direct the show with her feels symbolic in more ways than I can describe—a handing down of these roles that meant so much to us, and a celebration of how far this company has come. We feel a keen understanding and familiarity with this masterpiece and are absolutely thrilled to tackle this project together for Keegan’s reopening.”
“Come June 27, we can take a deep breath and finally be able to celebrate our accomplishment,” Rhea says. “This has been a huge undertaking and I attribute the project’s success to the labors of our company and staff, these two incredible companies—Stoiber and thinkmakebuild—and the incredible support of our patrons, donors, neighbors and the DC community.”
Rhea knows that audiences will come if the theatre continues to deliver on its promise to them: offering quality theatre that challenges and entertains; theater that is true to the words on the page, provided to the community at neighborhood prices.
“Our new venue has made us more committed than ever to our mission: To take audiences to the vital heart of the theater experience: extraordinary artists in an intimate setting exploring the human condition,” he says. “Our Church Street neighbors and the community have been amazing throughout this process and it was important to Keegan to include community space for them from the inception of the design of the new venue. It will be interesting to see how we can get involved with the community in new ways now that we have this added space.”
Keegan Theatre’s first year in their renovated building will be a busy one: ten productions will be staged including three musicals, a children’s production in the fall and two entries into the Women’s Voices Theater Festival in October, The Magic Tree and The Dealer of Ballynafeigh.