Friday, May 28, 2010

Ogunquit Playhouse Gets “A Big Face Lift”

By Jim Kanak
Staff Columnist
People attending plays at the Ogunquit Playhouse this year will be the beneficiaries of something they likely will not notice. During the off season, the Playhouse undertook a total reconstruction of its stage area and rigging counter weight system, upgrading the entire area with state of the art infrastructure and expanding the area of the stage floor. The project will permit the Playhouse to produce a wider array of plays than has been the case even in the recent past.
“The old girl got a big face lift,” said Executive Artistic Director Brad Kenney. “The rigging has 30 percent more ability to (lift). It’s state of the art with clean, manageable lines that can hold a myriad of things. And there’s an extra 12-foot depth at the center of the stage. That’s important for shows like “Chicago” and “The Sound of Music.”
Board member Peter Lewis helped oversee the work of the project.
“We tore out the stage, the cat walk - everything back stage has been replaced or fixed,” said Lewis. “In the last five years, shows have been a lot “heavier,” with more weight for the props. We replaced the old wooden infrastructure with a steel superstructure. We replaced the counterweight system. We now have the most sophisticated counterweight there is. This was a restoration of a system that needed to be replaced. We couldn’t have opened this year without this project. We were compromising the building.”
Project planning began in September 2009, with actual work beginning just after the first of the year. It was finished May 19. Scott Teas of TFH Architects of Portland designed the steel superstructure. Jim Stockman of Lighting Design, Inc. of Kennebunkport served as consultant for safety, operations, and efficiency. Paul Nolan of Major Theater of Quincy, Mass. designed and installed the rigging counterweight system. Warren Construction of South Freeport did the work.
“We used a professional review team,” Lewis said. “They worked with the board and staff and built it out for the next 20 years. It’s been built to accommodate wind shear and seismic activity. This structure would save this portion of the building in an earthquake. The steel posts go eight feet into the ground.”
Given that the work took place over the winter, a key decision was to build an extensive ramp into the rear of the building to transport the heavy equipment.
“We didn’t have to take the roof off in the winter to do the work,” Lewis said. “We brought the heavy equipment inside.”
This project follows on the heels of an upgrade to the building’s electrical system that was done four years ago. More work is planned.
“We have three, five, and 10 year vision plans,” Lewis said. “Things like enhancing the children’s theater to building a mezzanine in here, maybe winter offices. Additional seats would be a big thing.”
All of that requires planning and money. “The cost of this renovation was more than the original amount paid to John Lane (to purchase it),” Kenney said. “The project was under budget and on time. The building has been protected.”
Photo caption: Renovations at the Ogunquit Playhouse included installation of a state of the art rigging counter weight system. (Courtesy photo)