Mar 10, 201603:05 PMArt Beat
Gamut Theatre Group Expands
Grabbing a cocktail, you marvel at the bar’s rustic appeal and its clearly reclaimed components; there is an irony in purchasing alcohol over a bar built from the remains of this former Church of God. Theatergoers mill about the lobby before the performance sitting on the church’s original pews, re-upholstered and relocated to make room for the 230-person-capacity theater upstairs.
Up to the second floor, you carry your lidded libation while the lights dim inside the Select Medical Mainstage. Custom-built blackout shades unfurl to cover the church’s lovingly preserved stained-glass windows, the towering works that line the walls in patterns in light and color are drawn black, and a state-of-the-art surround sound system rumbles to life with subwoofers groaning under the theater seating. The first chirp of birds hovers all around, and the theater transforms into the Gamut’s production of a classic tale.
The size, scope and scale of re-imagining a church built in the 1850s as a modern theatrical space required more than just funding, it also called for an inspired imagination, zeal and optimism to achieve completion. And to see, no to experience, the dual drivers of utility and design expertly interwoven throughout this ambitious endeavor, to understand Clark and Melissa Nicholson’s can-do attitude and admirable commitment to arts in the Capital Region is impressive.
A little time spent with Gamut’s artistic director, Clark Nicholson, explains it all. As one half of the husband-wife duo who founded the organization 23 years ago, Clark’s enthusiasm for the Gamut’s programming, staff, cadre of talent and multitude of offerings is palpable.
Melissa, his wife, is equally committed, serving as the theater’s executive director.
Prior to refurbishing and moving into its new home on 4th Street in Harrisburg, the Gamut lived in rented space at Strawberry Square just a few blocks away. Over two decades, the organization that brought us The Popcorn Hat Players, Gamut Theatre Academy, the Stage Door Series, the Harrisburg Shakespeare Company, TMI Improv and a variety of other productions revisiting timeless and classic stories, the Nicholsons decided it was time to find a permanent space they could call home.
The home they found and purchased about three years ago just so happened to be a historic church complete with all of the Victorian-era opulence you’d expect of a mid-19th Century religious structure.
With over 7,000 volunteer hours logged in a three-year project that grew in cost by over half of the original budget, it is hard not to stumble into Gamut Theatre’s Select Medical Mainstage with your mouth agape and a wide-eyed recognition of the wild ambition inherent in this undertaking.
Upon completion of Phase I of the project, a 20,000-square-foot renovation, the theater opened for business in its new space in November 2015, but much work still remains to be done. The key consideration in the renovation after, of course, the comfort and theatric utility of the space, was how best to preserve much of the building’s historic architecture.
The decorative woodwork of the stage, the reception lobby’s table tops, the aforementioned pews and large components of the bar itself were all once parts of the church simply repurposed for the building’s new charge. But upon completion of Phase II, the Gamut will enjoy use of The Alexander Grass Second Stage to continue to broaden its offerings and host its current theatrical commitments.
Without the success that the Gamut has achieved since its inception in 1992, the organization’s relocation project would have seemed a pipe dream. If you’re wondering to what the Gamut Theatre and its founders owe their organization’s incredible success, then you haven’t yet experienced what the Gamut has to offer.
Their mission statement says it all: “Our mission is to tell classic stories in new and exciting ways that entertain, educate and enlighten children and adults alike.”
Count the Gamut’s relocation as an achievement not just for the organization, but for the arts and the Harrisburg region itself.