Gamm Theatre receives warm Warwick welcome
Warwick is one dramatic step closer to accomplishing Mayor Scott Avedisian’s mission for a destination hub within the city.
The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre (The Gamm) opened the doors of its future home – formerly the Ocean State Theatre – on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick on Tuesday evening to host an inaugural welcoming party, while its board of directors held its annual meeting upstairs to discuss what possibilities and opportunities exist for the theater’s future in its new location.
“When I look at this space, people have asked me, ‘What’s it going to be?’ Whatever I say today, come and talk to me six months from now or a year from now and it’s probably going to be completely different,” said Gamm managing director Oliver Dow. “I don’t know everything that’s possible with this space right now.”
The Gamm remains, for the time being, at the Pawtucket Armory, a space it has occupied for about 15 years which has significant space restrictions for its artistic staff. The hope is to be moved into Warwick by the opening of their next season in fall of 2018.
The new space features about 400 seats rising from a spacious stage area, with lots of crucial ancillary space – like dressing rooms and space to work on sets – that the Gamm staff currently lacks.
“The space is everything in a theater. The space in Pawtucket is a wonderful, intimate space but we’re shoehorned into there,” said Gamm artistic director Tony Estrella. “So just having access to the space, having ancillary space like shop space to be able to build in – all of those things makes us a more efficient theater and gives our designers and our artists more room to be able to breathe and imagine. If they can imagine better, we can do better theater.”
Dow said that has been his goal since being named the managing director about three years ago – to find a suitable space to enhance the theatrical experience for both the artists of the theater and the patrons who enjoy a good show.
“Artistically, this could be a transformational opportunity for us,” he said.
The building – which used to be a base for installations technicians for Verizon before being turned into the Ocean State Theatre, which subsequently went out of business in May – was perfect for the Gamm, who desperately needed to expand out of the facility they are currently “bursting out of,” and are able to focus their fundraising efforts on enhancing the existing artistic space rather than performing large-scale renovations.
“It’s a central location, Warwick – there’s an ease getting in and out of here and Mayor Avedisian has been amazing in doing everything he can to make this transition as easy as possible for us,” said Estrella. “The welcoming has been amazing.”
However the fit was also perfect for Warwick, according to Avedisian, who expressed his excitement that there will once more be a dedicated arts facility right on the outskirts of City Centre Warwick, the 100-acre hub of hotels, restaurants and travel accommodations ranging from the Fun House Ice Cream Shoppe on Post Road to the T.F. Green Airport Connector Road.
Avedisian talked about how the Gamm will add another possible destination for folks staying in the hotels along City Centre Warwick. Combined with the construction of the new Hyatt Hotel (which would give Warwick the distinction of having the most hotel rooms of any municipality in Rhode Island) and the opening of Proclamation Brewery nearby at 815 Jefferson Blvd., the mayor is optimistic about the future of the area.
“We’re really excited because not only are all these wonderful things happening in City Centre, but now the Gamm is going to be a great part of it,” he said. “We’re looking forward to a wonderful relationship between the theater and the city, and I know that great, great things are ahead. Welcome to Warwick, we’re thrilled to have you.”
In terms of what people can expect from the Gamm who are perhaps familiar with their unique brand of ultra-intimate shows – the board and the executive staff are promising that the charm of their old venue will not be lost even though their new home is much more spacious.
“Any theater is intimate when it’s full,” said Dow. “The goal will be to continue to serve our current audience but open up new areas. Now that we’re in the center of Rhode Island it’s a great opportunity not just for the shows we’re producing, but also for our education department, for special events and all the possibilities we can do.”
Dow said that he had already heard offers from people who want to rent the space for events and other functions, but that he wants to make sure that, no matter what the use, people get a “Gamm experience” when they walk in the doors.
Estrella said that the production theme for next year’s season of shows is still in the developmental stage, but that he hopes to tackle the ongoing divisiveness in America. He is not concerned about adapting to the bigger space, but rather is excited to see how the next chapter of the Gamm’s history will unfold.
“That to me is my favorite kind of theater, when you can take on something large, something big in theme, big in plot, big in cast even, and not be afraid of the limitations of a small space – and rather than constricting it so that it can’t breathe, actually creating a kind of density that can lead to a bigger explosion,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping to be able to continue here.”