WCT builds theater from the ground up

Whidbey Childrens Theater board president Peggy Juve, left, talks over construction plans for WCT’s blackbox theater with contractor LeRoy Boren. - Cynthia Woolbright
Whidbey Childrens Theater board president Peggy Juve, left, talks over construction plans for WCT’s blackbox theater with contractor LeRoy Boren.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Enter the Porter Building in Langley, turn right and step into the newest incubator for creativity on South Whidbey. It does not look like much at the moment: stripped tile floors, bare wood-beam ceilings, and scattered piles of wall insulation and other demolished debris. It looks nothing like a theater, but come April 1 that is what it will be.

Construction is now underway to build a 110-seat black box theater in office space leased by Whidbey Children’s Theater in the Porter Building. Renovation plans for the ground-floor project include a 35-seat cabaret theater, workshop space, a greenroom and rehearsal space, offices and expanded restrooms that will be brought to code for fire safety, public assembly and disabled persons access by hired contractor LeRoy Boren. Projected cost for the renovations is $168,189 according to Peggy Juve, president and a founding member of the WCT board. It is a generous number according to Juve, but in show biz it is best to prepare for the unexpected.

“There’s lots of cushion in there for anything that might go wrong,” Juve said.

The cost includes outfitting the space with the latest in theater technical equipment for soundproofing, insulation, lighting and sound. The black box theater will be a versatile venue with seating that can be configured for standard theater seating, dinner theater and other arrangements to acomodate renters. The spaces will also outfitted with digital projection systems and other board-room type technical equipment WCT hopes will make it user-friendly for meetings, seminars, gatherings, theater and musical performances by outside renters.

One group devoted to envisioning Langley’s future is already eyeing the space and its usage possibilities. Lianna Gilman, active participant and a co-founder of the Langley Community Forum, which has used the WCT offices for meetings, said the space and its future use will be “reflective of the connectedness of the community.”

“We’ve already been two organizations working together and this space will be made available to many others so the possibilities of its impact are endless,” Gilman said.

Friday the Children’s Theater launched a capital funds campaign asking the public to help build the performance space that will be as much WCT’s as it will be the whole of South Whidbey’s.

“Not many areas have this in their communities and people are realizing we need to take advantage of the opportunity,” Juve said.

Whidbey Children’s Theater has occupied the ground floor of the Porter Building since April and holds essentially a 10-year lease on the bottom level with options to renew or purchase the building. The construction is the latest step towards creating a permanent home for Whidbey Children’s Theater, which officially converted from the private enterprise of Martha Murphy into a nonprofit organization in November.

When the board formed in 2003 it penned a three year projected budget which has thus far panned out for the organization. WCT finished its first year in the black, spending an operations budget of roughly $7,000 a month for rent and utilities for the Porter Building space, rental fees for an off-site storage facility for props and costumes and salaries for artisitic director Martha Murphy and jack-of-all-trades office manager Emily MacArthur. The operations budget doesn’t cover production costs, which are funded by tuitions and year-round fundraising by WCT.

The Childrens Theater will experience a lull in activity during the capital campaign and construction period, but will head into a production schedule that includes “Honk!,” “Sound of Music,” “My Fair Lady,” “Quilters” and an-unannounced holiday production.

Juve said there are no ifs, ands or buts about when construction will be completed. The theater will open April 1 for the opening night of “The Taffetas” produced by The Third Street Players, a teen run and operated production company under the direction of the WCT Youth Council.

To meet that goal, the board has been pounding the pavement and sending out funding informational packets all week in hopes to spread the financial burden of the project. It is now the public’s opportunity to leave a lasting mark on the theater space. For $125 a person could buy one of the 145 seats needed for the two theaters. Each seat will have gold name plates engraved with the donor(s) names on the arm. There are also naming rights of the theaters that will be offered for certain donation levels, as well as inclusion in a permanent tile display wall.

Preference would be to have the money up front, but Juve said the board has realized the impracticality of waiting any longer to give construction a “go.”

“We’re just flushing money down the drain every month because that side of the building doesn’t get use now that it is gutted,” Juve said. “We have to get ticket sales going.”

In the interim until all of the capital funds are raised, the board has arranged to get the project started through a number of private loans from individuals.

“The $7,000 a month overhead doesn’t go away but we’re having to bite the bullet, sign the contracts and go,” Juve said.

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