Raise the roof

Olympia Little Theatre undergoes major remodel

Contributing writerJanuary 11, 2013 

Olympia Little Theatre has been dark since “Night Must Fall” closed Nov. 25, and the theater won’t reopen until April.

“It’s a doughnut season,” said Kathryn Beall, OLT’s artistic manager. “There’s a hole in the middle of it.”

The reason: For years, the theater has just been too darn hot (and sometimes too darn cold) because of its old heating and cooling system, poor insulation and a low ceiling that put stage lights too close to the audience as well as the actors.

“As the lights heat up, it just gets hotter and hotter,” said Toni Holm, president of OLT’s board of trustees.

Beall recalled a production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” for which the weather in the theater felt a bit too realistically Southern.

Conversely, the building was cold if the stage lights weren’t on, including in the green room, meaning that actors suffered. Regular audience members would come prepared for the rapid change of seasons during shows.

“People literally would come to our shows with a T-shirt, a sweater, a coat and a jacket and then a fan,” Holm said. “People would bring fans in the middle of winter.”

The remodelling project will include the installation of a new HVAC system, the addition of some cool and energy-efficient LED stage lights, and some additional insulation. But the key change — giving the project the name Raise the Roof — will be raising the ceiling 2 feet.

The ceiling has been low — about 11 feet — because the space was originally a flat-roofed garage. When the original roof began to leak, a peaked roof was installed on top of the original one in the mid-1990s.

Now the original roof will be removed, giving the theater a vaulted ceiling with exposed trusses, beams, lighting grids and heating ducts, said Kurt Rader, the architect on the project.

“It will look much more industrial,” Beall said.

The project has been years in the making. In 2007, OLT decided to investigate the practicality of removing the lower roof and begin fundraising. In 2011, OLT received a grant from the state Department of Commerce’s Building for the Arts program. The grant gave the company $44,000 for the project.

“We were the smallest project funded,” Holm said. “Most of the projects were big arts projects in Seattle and Tacoma and Spokane.”

The theater has estimated the total project cost at $217,000. The rest was funded by contributions of about $90,000 and money from the theater’s facilities budget.

The theater makes about 95 percent of its revenue from ticket sales, Holm said, and that includes money enough to save for repair projects, which are needed every few years given the age of the building. “I like to say we are the little theater that could,” Holm said.

People involved with the theater also donated a lot of free labor, saving an estimated $3,500. They began work as soon as “Night Must Fall” closed on Nov. 25.

“We had a huge crew of volunteers,” she said. “We removed the seats. We removed all of the lighting fixtures and the sound fixtures from the ceiling. We took the old lighting grid down. We removed the old insulation from the ceiling. The contractor told us that if we removed it carefully, they could use it over the green room.”

The theater’s fundraising has gone so well that it is working on a new fundraising goal: $10,000 to cover the cost of buying 13 LED stage lights and having them installed. As of Monday, the theater had raised $6,675, Holm said.

The lights are much cooler and more energy-efficient than traditional stage lights, and they make it easy to change lighting for scenes suggesting different times of day, since those changes can be made from the lighting board instead of through the use of filters of various colors installed over different lights.

“When we started thinking about this project, LED lights were several thousand dollars a piece,” Beall said. The lights have since come down in price.

“The LED lights are the next wave, and we’re going to have them,” she said.


What: Olympia Little Theatre is closed for remodeling, including installing a new heating and cooling system.

When: Closed through March. A reopening celebration is planned for April 6. The next play in the season, “Premiere,” opens April 19.

Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia

How you can help: The theater is fundraising to help cover the cost of buying and installing 13 new LED stage lights. Donations can be sent to Olympia Little Theatre, P.O. Box 7882, Olympia, WA 98507.

Information: 360-786-9484, olympialittle theater.org

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