No major improvements have been made to the Marx since it was built in 1968. It is the oldest un-renovated mainstage facility at any regional theater in the country. The Playhouse renovated public and production support areas in 1997; that effort did not make any significant improvements to either the Marx or Shelterhouse theaters.
Artistic Director Blake Robison told me on Tuesday that the Playhouse will spend its 2019-20 season offsite to allow time for the Marx to be demolished and a new facility to be built and opened in the fall of 2020. He anticipates a robust season that year in other venues, although none have been engaged yet.
The building project will provide a more intimate mainstage theater with a proscenium stage fronted by a projecting apron and capable of what can be done onstage. There will be ample wing space and the capacity to fly scenery — features of most contemporary theaters but never available for Marx productions, where scenic elements are most often lifted through trap doors from space below the stage.
“Many people might not see the immediate need for a new mainstage because we do an excellent job of dressing up our space, old as it is," Robison says. "We make it look fantastic whenever you walk in the door. You always expect a very high level of production value and artistic excellence at the Playhouse. People say, ‘Wow, this is fantastic! Why would they need a new theater?’ The truth is our stage machinery, such as it is, and the backstage areas and even some of the public areas are outdated. We put a lot of money in every year for basic upkeep. The analogy I’ve been using is, it’s really fun to drive down the parade route in your 1968 Chevy, but it’s not the car you would want to be driving if you’re working to the high standards of the American regional theater.”
The project will add new dressing rooms, a rehearsal room, green room, costume shop and backstage areas. The new theater will enhance audience experience with better comfort, sightlines, acoustics and entry/exit.
To make this possible, the Playhouse has announced that a major capital campaign is being launched — no price tag yet, as the project is still in a formative stage. After several months of further planning, details of funding and design will be made public.
Board of Trustees President Jack Rouse explained, “After more than a year of insightful research and analysis, the Board approved the capital campaign and the plan to build a brand new theater complex. We remain committed to Eden Park and to the Mount Adams neighborhood for the long term.”
The Playhouse plans to announce its 2017-18 season on February 28.