Oswego Playhouse seeking new home
By Jenette STurges email@example.com @jenettesturges September 6, 2013 10:48AM
Incumbent Oswego village trustee candidate Scott Volpe. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 9, 2013 7:33PM
The Oswego Playhouse would like to turn up the house lights on a new theater home, but the proposal for a new black box theater inside the Oswego Village Hall was not met with warm applause from village trustees.
Representatives of the Oswego Playhouse recently approached the Oswego Village Board with a proposal to use part of Village Hall as a permanent new home for the community theater group.
Under the proposal, the Oswego Playhouse volunteers would transform part of Oswego Village Hall’s annex into a black box theater, with a stage on moveable platforms, seating for up to 65, moveable room dividers and black walls. The playhouse would occupy about half of the first-floor rear addition of Village Hall.
Since the Oswego Playhouse was established in 2002, the community theater group has performed in venues across town, including dinner theater at the Tap House Grill, Shakespeare in the park, and, more recently, plays staged in the lobby of the Oswego Village Hall.
But, said Oswego Playhouse’s Jacquie Weirich, constantly changing venues has made it difficult for the theater group to build a loyal fan base, and the less-than-optimal stage space has limited the kinds of performances that the group can produce.
“The productions are very limited, in other words, you can only do what will fit in the space. When you have a dedicated black box theater you can do your sets in a special way to help the audience really live a part of that space,” Weirich said. “It’s every dream for actors and people interested in community theater to have their own space. People want to feel a real theater experience and you can’t get that in a lobby or a stairway where you can’t turn off the lights because they’re emergency lights. They’d also like to maybe have a glass of wine with theater. Those kinds of things bring a real feel to theater.”
Weirich also said that a dedicated space would help attract more talent for the playhouse’s productions.
While trustees have said they generally support Oswego Playhouse, which annually received donations from the village until 2010, when the theater group became self-sustaining, most said they were unsure that the theater was the proper use for space in Village Hall and that they wanted to see more collaboration with the Oswegoland Park District or the Oswego 308 School District to find a more permanent space that could be used by various theater groups in town.
“I had thought we were looking at that space for other opportunities,” Trustee Scott Volpe said. “I know we had talked about business incubators back there, I know we talked about renting out that space and bringing in a little revenue. If there’s another space available and a space that already has stages available, I think that’s a conversation worth having with other taxing bodies.”
Trustee Pam Parr, who said that she was a theater major and is still involved in theater, said that the village needed to set policy first.
“I think when that space was developed... that that was for future growth, and I’m a little nervous to give anyone permanent location,” Parr said. “How do we get out, are we going to get ourselves in a position where we have to go rent space because we’ve got a theater? It’s awkward for me to be arguing against it. I think it sets a bad precedent. What are we going to do if the senior center comes, who handles 10 times the population, weekly? It just seems we don’t have a policy for stuff.”
The playhouse would occupy a space that has gone more or less unused since Village Hall was constructed in 2008. The additional 15,000 square feet of unfinished space to the rear of Village Hall was initially built as room for expansion when bids came in lower than expected on the project seven years ago.
“We just want our own dedicated space where we can give our audiences a real theater experience,” Weirich said.