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Space is the next frontier for theater companies

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/Globe staff

When we asked a bunch of Boston theater people what they hoped for in 2015, the answer was often “space.” And it turns out, Chelsea’s Apollinaire Theatre Company is creating one. Or two or three.

Early next year, Apollinaire will announce major renovations to the Chelsea Theatre Works, its 1906 building at 189 Winnisimmet St., where the company has worked on two upper floors since 1999. Three ground-floor storefronts will be converted to a black box rental theater, a home for the company’s youth program, and a co-working space with a meeting area, rehearsal studio, costume shop, and more. Over the years, the spaces have been occupied by a furniture retailer, a social service agency, a church, and other enterprises. The co-working space could offer residencies to small companies, and it will also eventually include a large scenic shop and storage area in the basement.


“The youth space is something we’ve been thinking about for years, wanting to give our youth program its own space,” said founder and artistic director Danielle Fauteux Jacques, whose company opens a production of “Midsummer” on Friday night. “At the time that the Factory Theatre closed we were working on that, and we started to look at the building and say why not? Why not have a space that could house these small theaters right here?”

This fall’s Factory closing left several small companies scrambling for new homes for productions and crystallized concern about a lack of affordable venues. Last week via e-mail we asked more than a dozen local theater professionals about their hopes for the coming year, and many named space as their No. 1 wish.

“We have a thriving scene here with thirsty artists ready to create, and no place to actually work on their creations,” said actor Paul Melendy, who has just finished a run in the Gold Dust Orphans’ Christmas show, “Jesus Christ, It’s Christmas!” “We should be working to build another Calderwood, another BCA — a facility with open rehearsal spaces.”


It’s not just a small-company concern.

“Not only new small performance venues but affordable rehearsal space,” wrote Spiro Veloudos, artistic director of the Lyric Stage Company of Boston. “The Lyric Stage is sometimes hindered by having to search for good affordable (and I admit, what might be affordable for us might not be affordable by all) rehearsal space. . . . We can’t create theatre or art when there is no place to create it. And it is not created in a theatre. It’s created in rehearsal.”

Jacques says Apollinaire already has some funding in hand for the project, which could have a price tag close to $1 million before it’s complete. Apollinaire is financing some of the cost, and it is still raising public and private funds, as well as negotiating an amicable exit for the beauty shop occupying the third storefront in the former Odd Fellows Hall. The youth space and the black box, which will include a lobby bar/gallery and backstage areas, should be open by next fall, she says.

A mid-November meeting on site with about 30 people from the theater and local film communities provided valuable ideas. “We’re so used to doing without in the small theater community, but all of a sudden we realized, like, we can actually have these things that would be logical to have!” she says, laughing.


She isn’t the only one working on the space problem.

Factory executive director and longtime Boston lighting director Greg Jutkiewicz said he’s getting closer to opening a new performance space in the South End to continue that Tremont Street venue’s tradition of affordable rentals, but he’s not ready to announce it.

Executive director Julie Hennrikus of StageSource, a resource for New England theater companies, notes that the online SpaceFinder Mass site is up and running, though its data bank is still being filled by venues. Companies and arts organizations can use the free tool to find a place to produce or perform. Created by Fractured Atlas and supported in Massachusetts by the Arts & Business Council, it can be found at mass.spacefinder


A sample of other wishes for 2015 in local theater:

“I’d like see more young people making theater a regular part of their weekend plans!”

Summer Williams

a director and a cofounder of Company One

“This old year is so full of pain; it is enervating to swing from anger to sorrow and back. I’m hungry for theater that connects me with people I don’t know, that invites us to look one another in the eye and take note: we are alive and together!”

Debra Wise

artistic director of Underground Railway Theater

“I think about the students who are graduating from college with a degree in theater — whether it be performance, arts administration, or behind the scenes. Let’s give them a chance. Let’s pay them a living wage. Let’s make it possible for them to CHOOSE to stay in Boston and create fantastic theater.”


Paul Daigneault

producing artistic director of Speakeasy Stage Company

“I want to see Boston’s fringe theater scene get creative by using more non-traditional spaces, and I’d love to see our new mayor, arts chief, and local businesses get behind that. I would love to see more shows that don’t happen in a theater.”

John J King

a playwright and “senior mirth manager” for Vaquero Playground

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@gmail.com.