Ithaca's Kitchen Theatre Company Buys New Home; 99-Seat House Will Open

News   Ithaca's Kitchen Theatre Company Buys New Home; 99-Seat House Will Open Rachel Lampert, artistic director of Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca, NY, announced on Nov. 27 that her tiny Equity-affiliated troupe will move into a new home within 18 months.

The company known for contemporary plays, solo shows, kids' theatre and world premiere plays and musicals, will remain committed to an intimate performance experience. With the purchase of the building at 417 W. State Street, the company will add 26 seats to its seating capacity — from 73 seats at the current Clinton House to 99 seats on State, a street that will soon be renamed after Martin Luther King Jr. Restaurants, bars and shops are nearby.

The purchase is part of Kitchen's five-year plan to become a business operation that can support a full-time staff with competitive salaries and health insurance.

"With this move we will be able to increase our ticket income with no increase in our production expenses," Lampert said in a statement released over the Thanksgiving weekend. "All the unions and licensing agents we work with allow us to have up to 99 seats before any additional costs are added."

She said the troupe will "be lowering our expenditure for space, as our annual cost for the mortgage payment will be considerably lower than our current cost for rent."

Of the venue, she stated, "It will still be intimate — we are working with local architect Jason Demarest and consulting New York City-based theatre architect Karen Lee on a design that will give us the needed extra seating but not change the much-loved and unique intimacy we all [currently] enjoy in the Clinton House. We all agree that 'small' is 'big' to us. So, growth has been carefully considered. I think of it as adding the 'second balcony' or fourth row to our current configuration. The actors' sweat and spit will still be palpable!" The ceiling will be a little higher, which will result in better lighting positions. The depth of the stage space will be extended by a few feet to give actors an indoor crossover and a little more upstage space for scenery. "You may not realize this, but in our current space, actors often have to make an entrance by going out of their dressing rooms, out of the building, and then back into the building through the loading dock door," Lampert explained.

Kitchen Theatre Company is able to make the move because of "a combination of superbly detailed planning by the board and staff and one extraordinary unexpected gift."

The acquisition of the building "has been made possible by generous gifts from the board of the Kitchen Theatre Company and a few individual donors," Lampert stated. "The first stage of our renovations will be made possible by a generous bequest from the estate of Judith Holliday. Judith was a great friend to the Kitchen, playing roles on stage and off. She believed in what we do, and this gift is making it possible to see a long future for the Kitchen. Judith's gift will enable us to modernize the infrastructure and move our rehearsal space into the building."

Additional money will be sought to complete the renovations of the performance space, lobby, dressing rooms and support space.

The move-in date for rehearsals at West State Street will be summer of 2009. The target to open as a fully functioning theatre will be 18 months from December 2008. No disruption in the current season is expected.

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Now 18 years old, Kitchen is run by Rachel Lampert (who began there in 1997) and managing director Stephen Nunley. From 1997 to 2002, the Kitchen re-vamped and expanded its programming, offering performances year-round on four different performance series.

In 2002, with the help of outside professional theatre and organizational consultants, Kitchen began an examination of every aspect of the Kitchen's operations and developed a five-year strategic plan to move the Kitchen Theatre Company into a position of fiscal stability.

The goals were to maintain artistic excellence and a strong mission/vision and "maximize all income streams to make it possible for the Kitchen Theatre Company to exist for many years to come."

"We grew from under 300 subscribers to over 750," Lampert said. "Our annual budget nearly doubled. We retired all our accumulated deficits. Our recognition locally, regionally and nationally expanded enormously. Our plays have been embraced by the public and the press, and several have gone on to have other productions across the country. Our family of artists includes local professionals and visiting guests who all view the Kitchen Theatre Company as an integral part of their lives as artists."

Still, Lampert stated, "The one critical goal we have not yet achieved is the major reason for our move; we have not reached the goal of compensation and health benefits for our staff commensurate with their responsibilities and sufficient to attract their successors. We still have no way of ensuring the future sustainability of the Kitchen."

For more information, visit kitchentheatre.org.

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