PM&L Theatre looks to expand its space and offerings in downtown Antioch

  • As seen from the balcony, the stage of the PM&L Theatre in downtown Antioch, where officials plan to buy the adjoining building as part of an expansion project. It would provide more space for concessions, rehearsals and events, theater officials said.

      As seen from the balcony, the stage of the PM&L Theatre in downtown Antioch, where officials plan to buy the adjoining building as part of an expansion project. It would provide more space for concessions, rehearsals and events, theater officials said. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • PM&L Theatre President Adam Armstrong and Lorrie Ferguson, the vice president of marketing, show a model to illustrate the expansion of the theater in downtown Antioch. Acquisition of the adjoining building will provide more space for concessions, events and rehearsals.

      PM&L Theatre President Adam Armstrong and Lorrie Ferguson, the vice president of marketing, show a model to illustrate the expansion of the theater in downtown Antioch. Acquisition of the adjoining building will provide more space for concessions, events and rehearsals. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • PM&L Theatre President Adam Armstrong and Vice President of Marketing Lorrie Ferguson outside the theater in downtown Antioch. The community theater group is in the midst of a campaign to raise $100,000 for expansion.

      PM&L Theatre President Adam Armstrong and Vice President of Marketing Lorrie Ferguson outside the theater in downtown Antioch. The community theater group is in the midst of a campaign to raise $100,000 for expansion. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • The PM&L Theatre group is trying to raise $100,000 for a building expansion. The project includes purchasing the adjoining building in downtown Antioch and using it to provide more space for concessions, events and rehearsal.

      The PM&L Theatre group is trying to raise $100,000 for a building expansion. The project includes purchasing the adjoining building in downtown Antioch and using it to provide more space for concessions, events and rehearsal. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/27/2015 6:33 PM

There might be a system, but the collection of old props, ladders, an ironing board and other stuff that goes into a live theater production seems a bit haphazard.

"This is our wonderful backstage," explains Lorrie Ferguson, vice president of marketing for the PM&L Theatre on Main Street in Antioch. "You can see we're busting."

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Remarkably, the all-volunteer group has survived and thrived as it continues its 54th season. However, this year, members of the long-running community theater have more to look forward to than just the April 10 opening night of "Boeing-Boeing."

By then, the organization is expected to have closed on the purchase of the building next door to the century-old structure. The purchase, part of a "Growing the Arts on Main Street" capital campaign, will provide an avenue to loosen cramped quarters and lead to other performance opportunities.

The $100,000 fundraising goal will allow the organization to buy the adjoining building, which had been two storefronts. The buildings share a common wall, making it easier to provide access to a new concession area at street level to include beer and wine. The acquisition also will provide room for rehearsals and other events, such as Dickens teas during the holiday season, and allow for more entertainment dates on the main stage.

With the recent renovation of the Antioch Theater, an old movie house just to the south and around the corner on Lake Street, there's hope of an arts revival of sorts downtown,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's kind of the two cornerstones of the community," said Adam Armstrong, PM&L president. "It is nice that both organizations are going strong enough to make these improvements."

The nonprofit organization has operated at 883 Main St. for more than 30 years. The building, a warren of narrow staircases, cubbyhole rooms and hallways, was built as the Crystal Palace vaudeville house. It transitioned to a movie theater, then was vacant for a time before being rented and then purchased by PM&L, which owns the building free and clear.

Ferguson said the expansion will allow for more weekends of shows.

"It's going to put more life on Main Street," she said.

The group received a big boost in 2002-03 when a $1 million donation from Dolly Spiering allowed it to extend the main building and make other improvements. But quarters remained cramped, and rehearsals, set building and other activities limit the number of live performances to 21 weekends a year.

The group stages six shows and one bonus show each season, with nine performances per production. The average attendance is about 1,000 people per nine-show run, Armstrong said. Season pass holders are the bread and butter of the organization, but an expansion could attract new interest.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"For us to physically expand, this is the only option," Armstrong said. "We don't want to leave Main Street but we do have to expand."

He said the availability of the building next door represented a "happy coincidence" with the Antioch Theatre renovation. Owner Tim Downey said his business has been going "exceptionally well" since the grand reopening Feb. 27.

"I think it's wonderful," he said of the PM&L expansion. Downey said he donated a star in front of the movie house on PM&L's behalf and hopes the dual projects spark other business activity.

Whether presenting a show or not, the PM&L stage is in constant use for rehearsal, set building or other activities. The purchase will ease that pressure, "so we can have a shorter turnaround and be live on Main Street more often," Armstrong added.

"The more often there's an opportunity for people to be here, the more often they'll come," he said. An open house in conjunction with the Antioch garden club is scheduled for April 12.

The community theater had six founding members, including Ken and Betty Smouse, who met in a college theater production called "Palette and Mask," according to Armstrong. Their daughter and granddaughter still work in the box office.

PM&L stands for Palette (artist), Masque (drama) and Lyre (music).

"The move really tries to enforce all three aspects of the arts," Armstrong said of the expansion.

@dhmickzawislak

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