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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Sturgeon Bay theatrical house $3.5 million upgrade under way

Critic At Large

Third Avenue Playhouse

Third Avenue Playhouse marque during run of the play “Every Brilliant Thing.” Capital campaign logos inserted. (Warren Gerds)

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Third Avenue Playhouse professional theater has launched a $3.5-million capital campaign to renovate the theater and create an endowment fund for the organization.

With the theater temporarily shut due to COVID-19 restrictions, renovation has already begun on the building, the former Donna movie house, at 239 N. 3rd Ave.

Titled “REIMAGINE TAP,” the project is “a bold effort to unleash the hidden potential of what a theatrical experience at TAP could be with a major investment of the theater itself,” a news release says.

Speaking at the announcement this morning: Robert Boles, co-artistic director, Third Avenue Playhouse (TAP); James Valcq, co-artistic director, TAP; Alan Kopischke, board president, TAP; and Pam Seiler, executive director, Destination Sturgeon Bay.

Boles and Valcq lead the theater along with Amy Frank, managing director.

The renovation is under way because of a $1 million lead gift by an unnamed donor. With support of “numerous philanthropists,” the theater has raised more than 50 percent of its goal, a news release says.

When completed, the facility will include:

+ A state-of-the-art theater with seating for roughly 130 patrons, versus the present 84-seat capacity. The theater is known for its intimacy.

+ A “spacious and comfortable lobby space with accessible restrooms and expanded concessions area.

+ An updated backstage area including “proper” dressing rooms.

+ A full scene shop and updated technical equipment.

Plan for remodeled theater at Third Avenue Playhouse by architect Richard Toyne.

The project will also allow Third Avenue Playhouse to break through the common wall that separates it from the former Door County Advocate newspaper building for expansion of the lobby, consolidation of the box office and administrative offices and access to the costume shop and costume storage.

“It’s an investment in the future of the arts on Door County, and I don’t mean that to sound lofty,” Valcq said. “I just think it is.

“It’s so not about Bob and me. We’re the ones initiating it. In the short term, we’ll certainly benefit from the improved facility. But I think the big picture is after a series of band aids – which were done with all best intensions by our predecessors who did whatever they could afford – Bob and I are very fortunate that we have supporters who can see the building on to the next step of that.”

Robert Boles has acted across the country and on Broadway and started the theater major program at the University of New Haven. James Valcq is a musician-actor who has composed for Third Avenue Playhouse and Northern Sky Theater and notably co-created the musical “The Spitfire Grill” that ran in New York City has had more than 700 productions, including in translations.

The “Reimagine TAP” campaign leadership team consists of Natalie Gorchynsky, Gwenn Graboyes, Joe Graboyes, John Hauser, Steve Kane, Alan Kopischke, Tony Licata, Doug Mancheski, melaniejane, Jeremy Popelka, Grace Rossman, Bill Welter, Pam Welter, Karl Wise and Shirley Weese Young.

History snapshot from website:

In the late 1990s, a group of actors and artists from Door County’s performing arts venues joined with local business leaders and imagined a new theater for Door County. In 2001, the group was gifted the shuttered Donna movie theater and re-opened the building as Third Avenue Playhouse.

In 2012, TAP converted a storage room into an additional performing space – the Studio Theatre. In this “black box” theater, TAP offers thought-provoking plays, musicals, dramatic operas, children’s productions and special events.

Work has started on the lobby area. (Third Avenue Playhouse)

According to the website:

“Yet the incredible performances on stage distract attention from a grim reality: as a theater and a public facility, TAP is woefully lacking.

“The experience for an audience member is less than desirable: the seating creaks and is uncomfortable; the bathrooms are undersized and not easily accessible; the lobby and concession spaces are small and cramped; and many areas have inadequate heating and cooling. For the professionals who work in the space, the conditions are dire as well: the stage lacks wing space and crossover areas; the dressing room is little more than a landing at the top of the stairs; and there is no dedicated scene shop, costume shop, or even basic office space.

“Yet despite the substandard facility, the dedication and commitment of the professional staff and volunteer leaders have made TAP the focal point of Sturgeon Bay’s arts scene.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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