Burbage Theatre announces expansion to a permanent downtown location

Burbage Theatre announces expansion to a permanent downtown location

A view of 59 Blackstone Ave., in Pawtucket, the city’s former Morrison Thread mill, located behind Tolman High School, which will be the new home of Burbage Theatre Company. 

PAWTUCKET – After two years of renting space at Ten31 Productions on Roosevelt Avenue, the Burbage Theatre Company will move directly across the Blackstone River to its new permanent home in the city’s downtown later this summer.

Leaders of the nonprofit group have signed a five-year lease at 59 Blackstone Ave., located behind Tolman High School in the city’s former Morrison Thread mill, owned by Chance Kelly and Mark House, of Blackstone Pawtucket LLC.

“We’re just very, very excited about it,” Jeff Church, founding artistic director and president, told The Breeze. “We can do anything in there … (There’s a) big, open, empty space (and we can) fill it with our imaginations.”

The 3,000-square-foot space, located in the city’s arts and entertainment district, includes 1,800 square feet for the new theater and 1,200 square feet for the backstage area, Allison Crews, executive director, said.

The theater will include a lobby, box office, the main performance space, public bathrooms, dressing rooms, a scene shop, and storage space.

It will be able to seat 100 people, up from the absolute maximum of 80 seats at Ten31, and the space, which has 15-foot ceilings, allows for increased technical capacity, especially since the group will no longer have to create mobile sets that have to be broken down each night, Church said.

The company, which wrapped up its eighth season this spring and hosted its fifth annual Big Time Celebration last Friday, June 14, describes its style as “intimate and irreverent” and tells classic and contemporary stories that are “socially relevant and compelling.”

Since moving in Pawtucket in 2017, Church said they have received incredible support from the community and have seen its audience grow by 240 percent.

Since the Gamm Theatre left the city for Warwick, Burbage has seen an increase in patrons, and Crews said that Gamm leaders have been supportive of Burbage, grateful that their patrons have another theater in the area.

When searching for a permanent location, Crews said, they only looked at spaces in Pawtucket and mostly in the downtown area.

Pawtucket is a “nice, tight-knit community,” she said. “We’re really excited to be part of (its) growth and change.”

Church and Crews said they received strong support from Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien’s office, the city, and the Pawtucket Foundation while searching for a new home.

“Pawtucket continues to focus and grow especially around its vibrant arts community. We are excited and value Burbage’s commitment to our city and residents,” Grebien said in a statement. “Burbage’s move exemplifies the continued influx of activity into Pawtucket as they join an area that also includes the expansion of Collette, the new Rhode Island Spirits Distillery, and Mad Dog Cafe. We thank developer Mark House and his partners for their vision along the Blackstone Valley River.”

After looking at a handful of locations, Crews said the space at 59 Blackstone “felt right instantly” as soon as they walked into the building. “It was a gut reaction,” she said.

Existing tenants in the mill include Rhode Island Spirits, Tracey Glover Studio, a glassblowing and lighting manufacturer, Orange Square Design; Motif Magazine, Crown Cut Packaging, Mad Dog Café, Mad Dog Artist Studios, and Collette offices.

Crews said they’re excited to start new relationships with people in the building, including Cathy Plourde and Kara Larson of Rhode Island Spirits, which opened at 59 Blackstone Ave. earlier this year. She said she hopes they’ll make the mill “a spot for people to want to go to.”

The theater has 37 parking spaces, located on Blackstone Avenue across from the building and in a lot at the corner of Blackstone Avenue and Front Street. Street parking is also available, Crews said. To access the theater, patrons can use Entrance A, located at the front of the building facing Blackstone Avenue.

Renovations to the building have started, including installing HVAC and building out bathrooms, dressing rooms, and the box office. Construction is scheduled to be completed by Aug. 15 and the crew hopes to be in there by Sept. 1. The first show is set for Sept. 26.

When major work is done, the crew will hang lights, set up curtains, bring in risers, and get a sign for outside the building, Crews said.

“We’ll finally be able to have an actual, permanent sign,” she said.

For years the group, created almost a decade ago at Rhode Island College by four theater students and now comprised of artists from across Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts, made “guerilla” theater, Church said, by creating full, professional-quality productions and breaking down sets each night. While they’re thankful to Ten31 for its support, they’re ready to finally put down roots, he said.

Before moving to the space at Ten31, in 2015 Burbage entered into a residency at Aurora Providence before it closed.

Crews said it’s always been the company’s goal to have its own home, and they noticed last season that they began growing out of the space at Ten31.

Having a permanent space “helps give us a form of identity (and) can really allow for us to grow as a business, both organizationally and artistically,” she said.

The new space will allow Burbage to offer expanded programming and classes, which they weren’t able to do before, Crews said.

Church, an adjunct acting professor at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island, said they’ll offer classes on Shakespeare, general scene study and backstage/technical aspects.

The space will also allow for opportunities to have staged readings of new plays to workshop with local playwrights, he said.

After hosting a free production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” over the summer in four locations in Pawtucket and East Providence, Burbage’s ninth season will kick off in its new home on Sept. 26 with David Ives’s “The School for Lies.”

Visit www.burbagetheatre.org .

A rendering of Burbage Theatre Company’s new home at 59 Blackstone Ave. in Pawtucket, located in the city’s former Morrison Thread mill. In addition to the main performance space, the theater will include a lobby, box office, public bathrooms, dressing rooms, a scene shop, and storage space. It will be able to seat 100 people. The entrance is at the front of the building facing Blackstone Avenue.