mayor initiates search
for suitable theater building
hired to study
available sites to see if any could serve
as arts center, tourism office
"The point now is, if we build it, will they
Wayne Kyle, senior partner, Woodburn, Kyle & Co.
Madison Edition Cover
(August 2010) When Spectrum Productions theater
group gets ready to audition, practice and stage a play, its members
must gather props from various storage sites around town and carry them
upstairs to the second floor of the Ohio Theatre movie house. Once there,
they must work with only a bare stage and avoid touching the movie screen
There are no dressing rooms, no backstage, no side wings, no stage lights,
no pit. Whats more, they must advertise their location on a limited
advertising budget in hopes audiences will find them and attend their
shows in the makeshift location.
All we want is a place to call home, so we can keep all our stuff
there and people can find us, said Spectrum Productions member
Stephanie Hellmann. We dont need a lot; just give us a space.
For many years now, Madison area actors and playwrights have longed
for a theater to call home. While no one is making any promises, a recent
effort is under way to possibly find that home.
Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong has launched an initiative to find a suitable
building in Madison that could potentially serve as a visual and performing
arts center, including a theater, while also providing space for the
tourism office, Madison Main Street Program and perhaps even room for
seniors. The initiative could also determine that no such building exists
and that a new building should be constructed for such purposes, according
to Peter Woodburn, CEO and senior partner of Madison-based consulting
firm Woodburn, Kyle & Co.
Through Armstrongs effort, the countys economic development
organization, Economic Development Partners, in late July approved spending
nearly $3,000 to pay for a study of local buildings to gauge their potential
to serve as an arts center to include a visual arts and a performing
Its important that we look at all our options
and see if there is a building that would serve our needs, Armstrong
Woodburn, meanwhile, secured the services of Bloomington, Ill.-based
consultant Bruce Marquis to conduct a three-day assessment in August
of several public and privately owned buildings in town some
already for sale to see if they would be conducive to theater
stage productions and, if so, what renovations might be required to
make them so. Grant money totaling $100,000 is already available to
renovate or remodel such a building, Armstrong said, but not to purchase
one. Money to purchase a building, if necessary, would have to be found
The problem in the past is that every time a large building comes
available or vacant in town, people say it would make a great theater
or arts center, when in fact, it probably would not, Woodburn
said. This effort is an attempt to take a close look at all possibilities
in the community to see if in fact there is a location that would be
suitable for tourism and cultural programs.
Woodburn, who sits on the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Board
as a representative of Economic Development Partners, said the assessment
would focus on downtown buildings and ideally those situated
on or near Main Street. But he did not rule out studying locations on
the Madison hilltop.
Woodburns firm helped arrange a similar study in
1999 for the City of Madison during former Mayor Al Huntingtons
term. That Cultural Inventory & Cultural Assessment of Madison,
Ind., which costs $20,000 to produce, did not focus on actual
buildings, however. Rather, it attempted to determine the inventory
of artisans and other needs to develop cultural activities in Madison,
according to Wayne Kyle, Woodburns senior partner at the firm.
The result of that study showed that at the time, there were not
enough artists or cultural inventory in town to move forward, so it
was never acted upon, Kyle said. But things have changed
over the last 10 years and weve grown as a community. There are
many more artists and theater people in Madison today. We think the
time could be right now to pursue the viability of a theater or arts
center. The point now is, if we build it, will they come?
In recent years, several private citizens have discussed plans for establishing
a theater, but so far none have materialized. Chicago-area developer
Bob Przewlocki, who recently purchased the former Meese building on
the Madison riverfront, included a performing arts theater in his original
plan. And Andy Lytle, who recently bought the former Jefferson Street
Antique Mall at the foot of Jefferson Street, mentioned the possibility
of a theater in that building. When Huntington was in the mayors
office, he cited the downtown Dollar Store building, which was for sale
at the time, as a possible theater location.
by Don Ward
Madison Senior Center
on Main Street.
by Don Ward
Madison Trolley Garage
at 118 W. Second St.
by Don Ward
Brown Gym at the
foot of Broadway St.
by Don Ward
building at 602 W. Main St.
by Don Ward
School at 419 East St.
Other buildings have been mentioned as possible sites:
Eggleston Elementary School building, the former C&R Parts building
on Second Street, the Brown Gym, the current Senior Center building
on Main Street, the Madison Trolley Garage at 118 W. Second St. and,
most recently, the former Wesbecker building at 602 W. Main St. In fact,
Linda Lytle, executive director of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors
Bureau, has been taking theater people and city officials to the latter
location to get their thoughts on using it as a possible theater and
Such activities are preliminary in nature, according to Woodburn who
insists that the upcoming assessment is only a first step. But
we hope it will get the ball rolling and give the mayor something to
move forward with.
Spectrum Productions, which formed in 1998 before disbanding for several
years and reforming a few years ago, originally held its stage productions
in the basement of St. Michael the Archangel Church, owned by Historic
Madison Inc. Some productions were also held at the former Elks Club
on West Street and at the Madison Consolidated High School Auditorium,
according to Spectrums Hellmann. Current Spectrums next
play, Moon Over Buffalo, is scheduled for Sept. 24-26 and
Oct. 1-3 at the Ohio Theatres upstairs cinema room.
Well have to again put up makeshift walls and carry our
stage props upstairs. Its a lot of work, Hellmann said.
But well do what we have to do to put on our shows.
A recent production this summer also was held at the former Lamson Feed
Mill building at West and Second streets. It is owned privately by Peter
It is nice but in summer it is so light outside that it was hard
to create enough darkness inside to make it work for us, Hellmann
Riverrun Theatre Co. was formed seven years ago by Hanover College theatre
professor Jim Stark and playwright David Loehrs and produces about four
shows a year. The company has been holding its stage productions on
the third floor of the former Masonic Lodge Building on Main Street.
Stark says that while the space works and seats 85 people, it is hard
to get props up the tiny elevator.
Its a lovely space, and audiences really love being in there.
But it poses a challenge for the technical side, Stark said. The
group initially held productions in what is now Rivertown Chiropractic
on East Second Street. Fellow Hanover College arts professor Leticia
Bayujo owned the building at the time and offered the space for their
Stark said he has been notified of the recent initiative but isnt
getting his hopes up. Ive been to several such meetings
over the last few years. Its always the same concept, but the
plan is different, based on the building or the source of funding. Still,
Im pleased to work with the city and do my part.
Woodburn said he hopes this new assessment of local buildings will provide
the engine to allow Armstrong to create a Task Force and move forward.
It is not yet determined whether such a facility would be government
owned and operated or simply house a nonprofit organization that would
conduct the business affairs of the center. He cited successful examples
of both now operating in Portland, Ind., and Hartford, Wisc. Both towns
are close to or not much larger than Madison, and their theaters stay
busy year-round, he said.
The location and operations are all important questions to consider,
but the first step is finding a home for it to take place, Woodburn
said. And we are anxious to take the first step.
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