VENICE — Venice Theatre is continuing its renovations and improvements to its three-building campus.
From the renovation of the new Arts Education Center, to the new roof, HVAC, and safety measures for the Technical Arts Building, and to the remodeling of the theatre lobby, Venice Theatre’s The Next Act Capital Campaign assists in funding a variety of projects that will create much-needed expanded classroom and rehearsal space, provide an air conditioned workplace for scene shop volunteers, and a refreshed lobby for our patrons to enjoy.
The Next Act is Venice Theatre’s first capital campaign in 20 years, which funded the renovation of the main building, adding a second floor.
Before Venice Theatre occupied its current space, as many remember, Venice Theatre had humble beginnings performing in a tin Quonset hut at the Venice Airport from 1950 up until 1973.
Longtime volunteer and champion of Venice Theatre, Geri Becker remembers back to the days of the Quonset hut.
“It was a big tin box. That’s it. When it rained, you could not even hear yourself think,” she said.
She recalls that “one night it rained so hard that the water was flooding into the theater, because the theater, or Quonset hut, was on dirt. There was no floor. No floor, no lobby, no backstage, no bathroom. Outhouse. Very classy.”
Becker began her work as a volunteer at Venice Theatre in 1962 with a performance of Light Up the Sky.
“Six lines,” she said with a laugh. “Then I got roped into these musicals.”
Venice Theatre, at the time known as Venice Little Theatre, occupied this little Quonset Hut starting in 1950 up until the city wanted to use it as a storage space.
“We had to go looking,” Becker says.
After trying to build in Blalock Park, the Kentucky Military Institute’s building became available for purchase.
They bought it in 1973 for $78,000, but converting the gymnasium and rifle range of the Kentucky Military Institute would cost an additional $225,000.
Thus, Venice Theatre’s first capital campaign was born.
In November 1973, Venice Theatre opened its first show in the new building. The musical “Li’l Abner” entertained Venice residents for a mere $3.25 per ticket.
Venice Theatre quickly outgrew its new space and desperately needed to expand. After the hiring of Producing Executive Director Murray Chase in 1995 and other expansions to the staff including Maureen Holland, Allan Kollar, and Director of Education and Outreach, Sandy Davisson, Venice Theatre was bursting at the seams.
In 1999, a Capital Campaign began, led by Scott Pinkerton. Through this campaign, a $2 million renovation to the theater began. $850,000 in grants were supplemented by the generous support of individual donors.
These renovations included building a second floor in Venice Theatre’s main building, adding nearly 14,000 square feet of rehearsal, classroom, and office space. A MainStage balcony, a reception room with a catering kitchen, and a mezzanine art gallery looked down on the expanded lobby. On the ground floor, there was now a greatly expanded box office, a new costume shop, more office space and storage, and backstage for Stage 2.
“There was lots of excitement,” Sandy Davisson said.
Maureen Holland recalls the adjustment to the new building.
“We couldn’t find each other in the building,” Holland said. “We had to get walkie-talkies just so we could find each other and meet in person.”
“Because there was no intercom system yet,” Davisson adds.
They fondly remember the day Allan Kollar purchased a pager.
“He had that thing on his belt and he felt like Batman,” Holland says.
The vision of a campus is one that came from Producing Executive Director Murray Chase.
Maureen Holland remembers back to when she started working at the theater.
“He gave me a five-year plan, and everything in that plan was done in two years. As soon as we were able to acquire the ABC Liquor Store Building,” now the Technical Arts Building, “Murray had drawings of a campus.”
Sandy Davisson pipes in with a final thought.
“He’s a visionary.”