SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RI – The Contemporary Theater Company has expanded its community-focused entertainment and performing arts campus in a move that shows an ongoing commitment to South County and downtown Wakefield.
The theater, located at 327 Main St., has completed a $500,000 expansion project that includes the addition of a new rehearsal room, classroom, patio lobby, patio auditorium balconies and patio expansion.
“The expansion was critical to our operations – we simply lacked the space we needed to adequately produce the shows and classes the community wanted,” said Chris Simpson, who founded the theater during his college years and after as before there is a force behind the interlocking of many forces to realize this major project.
This small and growing community playhouse is being transformed into a cultural beehive in downtown Wakefield. Weekly performers fly into the beehive and put on honeyed performances at the CTC that draw hundreds of people each week.
Without CTC, some artists might still struggle to find their “home” for acting and the camaraderie of others. Most work part-time jobs to support their acting careers, which rarely get paid.
In 2012, the theater announced that it had relocated to what was then the Hera Gallery location. It opened with a renovated nearly 100-seat theater, a new lobby and entryway, and new workspaces and restrooms.
This announcement came after seven years of the nomadic CTC having performed at more than a dozen venues throughout South Kingstown and Narragansett.
CTC Founder Simpson said at the time: “This new theater puts us in the heart of our vibrant downtown neighborhood while giving us room to grow. The fact that Wakefield is a great walking community has been something we’ve looked at for some time. When the opportunity presented itself, it seemed like a no-brainer.”
Today, he and Joe Viel, executive director of the Southern Rhod Island Chamber of Commerce, see it as an investment worth making.
“Every addition to these Main Street businesses,” said Many last year, “brings new life. Companies that have seen the transformation and success of bringing this high street to life are building on it, like Contemporary Theater.”
In an interview this week, Simpson spoke about the needs and value of this new project.
How does this building advance contemporary theater and its development as community theater?
Before this project, apart from the 100-seat theater, we only had one additional room that everyone knows. We could hold classes or rehearsals there, but when there was a performance going on in the theater or on the patio, other programs had to be shut down so that the rehearsal room could function as a dressing room and ‘green room’ instead.
We had to accommodate all classes in off-nights and squeeze upcoming rehearsal processes around both shows and classes.
We spend more time working on a show than performing it and all of that couldn’t happen anywhere. Now we can increase the quality of our shows, offer more classes and more flexible times, and give our actors and designers more space and flexibility to rehearse their shows. It supports the invisible side of what we do.
Can you briefly describe what this building has today that The Contemporary Theater did not have in the past?
Most notably, we have Jean Maxon Carpenter’s new rehearsal room to accommodate our overcrowded rehearsal and classroom space. We also have the new Balconies making room for 49 of the best possible seating on our Terrace Stage which enhances our Shakespeare on the Saugatucket, Ocean State Improv Festival and Black and Funny Improv Festival and our Afterglow concerts.
Already proving extremely popular at the June and July events, they open up a whole world of new viewing and production possibilities. This space also allows us to serve our outdoor events with a beautiful new bar fully stocked with local beers and wines and a wide range of mixed drinks and non-alcoholic options.
Why was it important to undertake this project in light of the grand plan that you and others have set out for your theater?
This expansion is part of a larger vision of how we can continue to transform our property and community.
We felt it was necessary to take action during the pandemic to start the first phase of this vision. We were in dire need of more rehearsal and classroom space and we really wanted to improve the patio area as our outdoor shows have been our lifeline during the pandemic and are a big part of our plans for the future.
We also needed to show our community and supporters that even in the darkest of times, we still look to the future, planning and building for a better future. It gave us something to look forward to and gave our community a visible sign that the future could still be bright.
What is the estimated total cost of this building, including any land purchases you may have had to make and any associated construction costs?
The project ended up being a $540,000 project. Government support provided the initial $75,000, and the Champlin Foundation made the largest contribution, $119,000. The remainder was funded in our usual grassroots style with private support from local individuals and small foundations.
How was this building constructed, in other words, sweat capital of you and others in constructing this building, as well as paid labor? Did other members of the ensemble help?
There are several capable builders and contractors in our theater community and we always intended to use volunteers for various aspects of the project.
However, we did not anticipate that the price of lumber would triple in the first six months after groundbreaking, or that a shortage of contractors would mean that our general contractor would have to pull out of the project to focus on their core business of house building.
Due to material costs and a sudden vacancy, we decided to roll up our sleeves and manage the project ourselves.
Luckily, the community of skilled builders, ambitious retirees, and fast-learning ensemble members were able to band together to work alongside the many skilled tradesmen to complete the building.