Dig the Scene 

Playhouse on the Square breaks new ground.

Playhouse on the Square's newly acquired Union Avenue headquarters is vast and empty. But it's filling up fast.

In one room, a ratty mattress is propped against the wall. Another room is piled from floor to ceiling with hats in every color imaginable. It's exactly the kind of scene you might expect to see when a 40-year-old theater packs its bags and moves.

"I don't want to raise money anymore. I want to clean things up," says Playhouse executive producer Jackie Nichols, his voice echoing in the city-block-sized basement underneath the new offices. "I want to just be the repair man."

Nichols, who has nearly completed the first major phase of an ambitious $15 million capital campaign, says he's tired of raising money and ready to refocus his energy on making theater. On Monday, March 24th, three days before the groundbreaking party for his theater company's state-of-the-art performance facility on the adjoining northeast corner of Cooper and Union, he invited the media over for a chocolate-martini lunch, guided tours, and surprise confessions.

"I've been practicing to be the new theater handyman," he says proudly and seriously, referring to his recent installation of a "meditation/smoking garden" on the south face of the new headquarters.

click to enlarge A roomful of hats
  • A roomful of hats

Not including its new and unfinished acquisitions, Playhouse on the Square possesses real estate valued at $3 million. Soon, its holdings will increase considerably. The former movie theater on Poplar, which currently houses Circuit Playhouse, will become a rental facility similar to TheaterWorks on Monroe, which will continue to house small local theater companies and accommodate smaller touring groups. Circuit Playhouse will move into the Cooper Street property currently occupied by Playhouse. Most major changes are expected to begin within the next nine months.

"Rentals are a big revenue stream," Nichols says explaining that the new building will eventually include a rooftop garden that will be rented out for weddings and parties.

"We get calls for that sort of thing all the time," he says.

The top floors of Playhouse's new offices will be rented to a variety of local arts groups. Its current headquarters, above the theater on Cooper, will house office space for UPTA, an annual "cattle call" audition for stage actors that currently attracts more actors and theatre companies from around the country than the current facility can service.

Once the new building is complete, both Circuit and Playhouse will produce theater 35 weeks a year with a combined budget of just over $2 million. The main and second stages also will be available for rental by other local arts groups throughout the year.

Dig the Scene, a groundbreaking event, is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Thursday, March 27th, on the northeast corner of Union and Cooper. There will be music, appetizers, chocolate milk for the kids, and chocolate martinis for adults.

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