Seeking a new home for the past couple of years, the Elmira Theatre Company has found an option that’s something of a return to its roots.
The not-for-profit group is setting up shop at St. James Lutheran Church in Elmira.
Prior to finally gaining its own dedicated location, the orgnization had previously run its performances from rented space such as the Elmira Lions Hall and the St. Jacobs Community Centre. Now, it’ll be sharing a facility once again.
“[We heard] the church was possibly interested in leasing out some space in their building,” explained ETC president Bev Dietrich of how the ball got rolling. “We got the church board approval, and they’ve been so welcoming, open arms to us. It’s just been wonderful.”
The arrangement with St. James ended a search that began two years ago when the owner of the building at 76 Howard Ave. informed ETC she would not be renewing the lease. The theatre group has a part ownership in the building, and played a key role in winning Woolwich Township approvals in 2005 to expand the facility to run a theatre from the site in an industrial part of town.
ETC shares the building that houses its current dedicated space with Calla Studios, which has been making changes at the facility. The group’s lease expires on September 30.
Looking to stay in Elmira, or the township at any rate, the organization found its options limited by both its space requirements and its budget, said Dietrich.
“It was a challenge to actually find space that we could afford. That was sort of our number-one. And, of course, we had some criteria that it had to fit, as well, because we were actually looking at possibly renting a warehouse space like we used to do, then move to another theatre space that we could set up for performances,” she said. “But then we looked at our finances and kind of had a little chuckle and thought, ‘Well, that’s not going to happen.’ We then looked at the possibility of going to a place that was already a theatre, so then we wouldn’t have to move lights and seats and stage and all that sort of stuff, like we have had to. We found the church, the church found us and the happy partnership was formed.”
ETC will have some dedicated storage and changing rooms, making use of some of the sizeable amount of space at St. James.
“We have use of some rooms, I guess what would have been Sunday school rooms, for our props, costume storage, and then one room that will be sort of like the dressing room, what we call the green room, the dressing room for the actors. And then we have use of the stage, the stage in the auditorium, when we have our performances. That will also be used for rehearsals – we have use of the stage then as well,” said Dietrich.
“We’re sort of like the primary leaseholder in there. We do share the space with another church, but they’re just in there on Sunday mornings.”
The church auditorium is already set up for performances, though ETC is in the process of lowering the stage to both make it more usable and to provide better sightlines for the audience.
In moving from the dedicated space, the group will have somewhat less flexibility when designing sets for its productions, but it’s a small workaround, said Dietrich.
“We’re not losing too much space. Probably the biggest space that we’re losing is on stage, which is fine, because you don’t have to have a big space to do a play,” she explained, noting audience size should be comparable.
“We can probably be able to fit about 120 people, which was what we were basically doing now – it was 126 – but there won’t be the dinner theatre space that we had at this point in time. We have to revamp something for that, but right now we’re OK with that. We just want to get one season under our belt to see how this is going to work and how can we make it work better.”
Already holding auditions for next season, ETC will begin welcoming audiences to the St. James location when stagings get underway in November.
Also in the works is the formation of some kind of worship, arts and culture centre based at the church.
“They’ve got other Sunday school rooms that they could possibly rent out as an artist’s studio or as a dance studio space. They will use the stage and they would like to use their sanctuary as something where they could possibly do concerts and that sort of thing,” said Dietrich. “We just kind of started the ball rolling on that, so that’s going to be really exciting, I think , to bring that to fruition, to have some kind of worship and art centre for downtown Elmira.”