With the start of a new season fast approaching, Paducah's Market House Theatre is working on renovations that are expected brighten up the downtown drama institution.
The end of its 55th season in June brought a needed window for work on the front of the main playhouse. The construction plans will add new, expanded restrooms, a vestibule and new HV/AC units to regulate the theater's temperature, indoor and outdoor will call windows, a new light and sound control booth and, for the first time in the institution's history, a bar.
Michael Cochran, Market House Theatre executive director, has been tasked with supervising the renovations -- which are part of the organization's now decade-long, $5.6 million Next Stage campaign to construct a modern drama campus in the downtown area.
"There was a lot of engineering and reengineering to figure out all it. Because this building is on the National Historic Register, you can't do anything to the exterior," he said. "You can't expand out the sides, make it taller or do anything like that. So in order to expand the restrooms we had to figure out a way to save space while preserving the size of the lobby."
This meant sacrificing four rows of seating, bringing the total capacity of the theater to 200 people. Cochran is sure the new amenities will make up for the slightly diminished seat count and that any revenue problems can be solved with an additional showing.
Windows and doors that were painted over and sealed long ago are being cleaned off and opened around the building's exterior, which Cochran hopes will make a big difference in the warmth and feel of the lobby.
"The theater's been here for 56 years, and I'm willing to bet that some doors have been closed for 50 of them," he said. "I want this building to look like it has life in it."
A renovation of this scale has been considered for time now, Cochran explained, with complaints that restrooms were too small dating back to his hiring in 1983.
"This building has been kind of the domino to hold everything up since I got here," said Cochran. "Its renovations couldn't take place until there was devoted rehearsal space and a scene shop elsewhere to help turn productions around faster. If we didn't do it this summer, it would have had to wait an entire year."
Market House has worked since 2010 to turn its 10 downtown properties into a comprehensive and efficient campus, chunking out the fundraising and construction efforts into multiple phases.
"We sectioned the buildings and did things differently so that the project could be tackled a piece at a time," Cochran explained. "I learned from all the mistakes we made during our last round of renovations that you can't just wait to have all the money raised because the costs will keep going up."
With the completion of the playhouse renovations and the building immediately across the street, the theater will have two phases left to finish the project by their projected date of Dec. 31, 2020. Just north of $4.2 million has been raised, leaving an additional $1.4 million for the final push, which Cochran hopes to have collected by the end of 2019.
"The project is tight but it's on track," he said. "We're still raising funds, but we can't count on anything. If the tax credits all sell at the price we want them to, then we're really, really close. It'll be so great when it's done."
The public's first look at the renovated venue will come at the start of its 56th season on Sept. 12 when the theater will put on the world premiere production of "Something Dark," playwright Paul Elliott's ghost story for the stage.