October 21, 2014
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Ocean State Theatre in race to raise curtain on new home
John Howell
GIVING ARTS DIRECTION: Amiee Turner, the producing artistic director of Ocean State Theatre Company, explained how the company is transforming the former Jefferson Boulevard garage into a 409-seat theater. The theater, which is still very much in its beginning phases, it set to be finished by early December.

Workers were busy on Tuesday afternoon at the new Ocean State Theatre on Jefferson Boulevard hammering nails and installing metal wall frames. In what producing artistic director Amiee Turner calls an “extraordinarily aggressive schedule,” the former garage will be transformed into a brand new theater in just over a month and a half.

There may not be any chairs in the theater yet, but that didn’t stop patrons form visiting the makeshift box office on Tuesday afternoon.

Turner said things have been going well and the construction of the 409-seat theater is on track for their early December opening.

“The way things are happening, a lot can happen in four weeks,” she said.

What was once a 10,000-square foot garage is now the skeleton of a performance venue. In August, excavators dug out the orchestra pit and sloped the floor to accommodate poured-concrete stadium-style seating. The roughly 945-square foot stage sits at ground level, with a load-in area situation directly upstage. In the future, Turner said it’s possible to add fly-space, an area above the stage’s ceiling where they could hang scenery. But that’s a ways off, as are many of the plans for the former industrial space.

Turner said the basement of the building will be transformed into dressing rooms that will be able to accommodate up to 28 performers, a plus for when they stage large musicals. Still, they’re soft opening in December will feature two shows with much smaller casts; “The Winter Wonderettes” includes four women, and “The Santaland Diaries” is a one-man show.

Upstairs, a black concrete room with old insulation piled in one corner will be transformed into administrative offices and a rehearsal space.

On the ground level, where the performance space is, will be a box office and restrooms. There’s also space for a scene shop.

But for now, all of these things are just skeletons of what they will be come December. No dry wall had been installed as of Tuesday, though Turner said the stage’s proscenium had been constructed in less than a week.

Though she acknowledges the ambition of the schedule, she thinks they will be ready for the theater’s first performance on Dec. 5. “We’re nervous but we’re confident as well.”

Ocean State Theater Company (OSTC) served as the producing entity at Theatre by the Sea since it’s re-opening in 2007. The theater’s owner, Bill Hanney, did not renew their contract this year.

“The whole project has become weirdly serendipitous,” said Turner, describing the search for a new home. Warwick was not a first consideration and locating in a semi-industrial and office area was not on the top of the list.

Now OSTC is in a 20-year lease of the Jefferson Boulevard building with owner Steve Soscia, who was working as a realtor for the company during their nearly two-year search for a new venue. They’re also renting the building and accompanying parking spaces next door. The building is owned by state representative candidate Joe Shekarchi, who acted as Ocean State Theater Company’s attorney when they went before the zoning board. The 3,600-square foot building will be used as a costume shop, and the additional parking will provide the theater with a total of 115 spaces.

Tickets for their inaugural season, which includes shows in 2013 like “The King and I” and “Rent,” went on sale in September. The theater opened its box office during construction earlier this month. Turner said ticket sales have been going well, and she believes the theater will fill a void in Rhode Island for professional, homegrown musical theater and plays.

She said she has also gotten interest from other groups looking to rent the space once it is completed. With 409 seats, Turner said Ocean State Theatre is easier for groups to fill than the Providence Performing Arts Center or even the Park Theater, which seats about 1,100.

Although Turner said there is an abundance of theater in the state, many of the performance groups are community theater, or amateur troupes. Ocean State Theatre will use professional performers, which Turner said benefits the audience, especially for certain plays and musicals.

“It’s professional theater for the community, not a community theater,” she said.

For more information about Ocean State Theater, including tickets, visit www.oceanstatetheatre.org or call 921-6800.


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