Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Story so far: part one...

This Summer has been full of  fundraising meetings, planning meetings, architect meetings, and more fundraising meetings. In the midst of all the meeting madness we thought it would be fun to remember how we got here and exactly why we're doing this.

Austin Playhouse was founded by Don Toner and members of the Artistic Company in 1999. We’ve come a long way from our first season, where we were invited to perform Light up the Sky, Mahalia, and The Fantasticks at Concordia University. Our second season we produced four plays in various venues around town including Arcadia at Hyde Park Theatre, Blues in the Night at a downtown nightclub, and The Man Who Came to Dinner and The Seagull at McCallum High School.

In 2002 we moved into our Penn Field location. Our artistic director, Don Toner, who served as project manager on the State Theater renovation, led the more modest renovation of the old World War I warehouse into a comfortable two-performance venue facility. (Our artistic director's background in construction continues to serve us well as he navigates the planning of our new home!) We opened our Penn Field location three months after moving in with a regional premiere of Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen. Over the next eight years we produced over 60 plays at the Penn Field location and opened a second stage theatre named after Larry L. King (whose play, The Dead Presidents' Club, we've produced six times!) 

During our years at Penn Field we enjoyed a strong growth of our audience base, but we also experienced skyrocketing rental rates. We started our stay at Penn Field paying roughly $5,000 a month. By 2010 the rate was $12,000 per month. Our growth as a company was severely limited by this monthly burden. Additionally, after a few seasons we found ourselves quickly cramped in the small space, without room for costumes, props, offices, rehearsal or scene building space. We also wanted to offer our amazing patrons a world-class facility and that simply was not possible at Penn Field.

Instead of searching for another rental space where we would face the same uncertainty of rising rent, we began looking for a permanent home to purchase in 2008. A permanent home, that the theatre owned would offer incredible stability to the company. Additionally, the new home would be sustainable; once the mortgage was paid off, the monthly payments not only would never rise -they'd go away.

The Austin Playhouse company has renovated warehouses and old movie theatres, but we’ve never had a brand new facility built just for theatre. We found a beautiful location in Northwest Austin along Spicewood Springs Road and began drawing plans and initiating a fundraising campaign. Dick Clark Architecture was engaged and Scott Ginder, our architect, created a beautiful and affordable design. Unfortunately, in the course of performing due diligence on the site it became clear that the land would not be able to support a theatre and adequate parking.

So the search continued as the rent continued to rise...

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