, Salem, MA

January 18, 2014

Salem State to rebuild theater


---- — SALEM — It may have taken a while, but Salem State University is finally getting a building worthy of its award-winning theater program, which has sent graduates to stages in New York, London and beyond.

“This is a Broadway house,” David Allen George, Salem State’s theater coordinator, said of plans to gut the Mainstage Theatre and rebuild it as part of the Sophia Gordon Center for the Creative and Performing Arts.

Plans for the $18.6 million project were unveiled to neighbors this week.

“Without expanding the area of the building, we are able to fulfill the goal of really transforming this into a teaching theater space,” architect Andrea Leers of Leers Weinzapfel Associates said at a meeting of the Salem State University Neighborhood Advisory Committee.

This complex reconstruction will reduce the size of the Mainstage Theatre from 700 to about 470 seats. The smaller, more “intimate” theater, as Leers called it, will have raised seating, a balcony, an orchestra pit and a floor with a hydraulic lift.

The smaller theater will have room left over for a full-sized rehearsal stage, a larger glass-walled lobby, a box office, shop rooms and offices.

The entrance to the Mainstage Theatre is being moved from the front near the sidewalk to the side, opening into a landscaped courtyard.

Salem State has about 250 students in Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts programs in theater. It is the only state college in Massachusetts with certification from the National Association of Schools of Theatre.

Nearly half of the program’s graduates are working in theater, according to George, some in high-profile roles. Currently, Tracee Chimo, a Salem State product, has the lead female role in “Bad Jews” on Broadway.

The Mainstage Theatre was originally built in the 1950s.

At the neighborhood meeting this week, concerns were raised about the size of the Mainstage Theatre sign, potential glare from outdoor lighting, and the lack of a safe drop-off area and crosswalks for theater-goers.

Construction is expected to start this summer and take 18 to 20 months, according to the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, which is overseeing the project.

Tom Dalton can be reached at