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Gamut opens new theatre in Harrisburg with Twelfth Night

Written by Cary Burkett, Arts & Culture Desk and WITF Host | Oct 29, 2015 12:42 PM
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After over 20 years of performing classic theater at Strawberry Square in Harrisburg, Gamut Theatre Group is opening its own new facility next week with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a new Shakespeare production.

In February of 2014, Clark Nicholson, the Artistic Director of Gamut Theatre Group, gave us a tour of the building which had recently been purchased to be transformed into the new facility. Standing in the sanctuary of what was then the old Church of God on 4th Street in Harrisburg, he described his vision for what the new facility would be like.  

Now, some  21 months later, the facility to house Gamut's main stage productions, the Harrisburg Shakespeare Company, the Popcorn Hat Players children's theatre and all its touring productions is about to open.

The Grand Opening will be held on November 6th with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse and a community open house from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

"I'm going to brag and say I think when you come in and see this place you're going to 'ooh' and 'ahh,'" says Nicholson. "The things that will make you 'ooh' and 'ahh' were done for less than $100,000 and mostly with volunteer help and the help of our full-time core company."

The project costs ran $2.6 million. But Nicholson says almost all of that went for behind- the- scenes upgrades to the 1885 structure.

"The building is a great old historic building," he says. " It was the mother church of the First Church of God denomination. But the building itself, because it was built so long ago, didn't pass fire codes. There was also no air conditioner and a very antiquated heating system. Electrical upgrades needed to be done all over the building." 

He says the transformation that will be seen has largely been accomplished by dedicated Gamut volunteers working some 5,000 hours doing painting, carpentry and the like.

"It's a thrust stage, we did build it ourselves," he explains. "A lot of people don't realize when you make things like stages if you don't brace them right and things like that; you end up making a drum. Actors walk around on it and it makes so much noise. We knew exactly how we wanted to make it. We re-purposed the wood in the church - it had this lovely wood paneling. We pulled it off, moved it forward.  We cut it up, put it back together and it's really quite beautiful."

The first production on the new stage, which opens Saturday, November 7th, will be Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. To Nicholson, the show reflects on the endings of things and points to new beginnings.

"You honor the things that came before," he says, "but you revel in and celebrate the new life that blooms forth. So that's why we chose that show."

If there is any shadow over the celebration, it might be the current situation of the Susquehanna Art Museum, a fellow arts organization.  It now faces an uncertain future because of financial problems related to its own new facility.  Nicholson calls the situation tragic.

"It's been around for a long time. When Susquehanna Art Museum started they were right across the hall from us in Strawberry Square," he says. "I want to see how things work out because losing that organization would be a great blow to this community."

He says Gamut is aware of the pitfalls for arts organizations. They are currently seeking a specific state grant to shore up their own financial stability.

"We hope we've presented our case that we have a long-standing reputation in this state, and that we have a good plan for how to move forward," he notes. "We've had a lot of people that have written the governor's office and legislators to talk about the value of Gamut in Pennsylvania." 

But, like so many other things, this grant has been held up because of the ongoing state budget stalemate.

Twelfth Night runs November 7 through 29, Fridays and Saturday evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2:30.

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