For years at The Schoolhouse Theater — up a steep hill on Owens Road in Croton Falls — the vibe was much more schoolhouse than theater.
Stroll down the main hall and you could easily imagine an unruly child cooling his heels on a chair outside one of the classroom doors. Walk into the tiny auditorium and, along the right wall, you’d see the window through which school lunches were passed. The only thing missing was a lunchlady with a hairnet.
For 14 years, it was a 74-seat theater inside a 1926 schoolhouse. Yes, it was charming, the productions were exceptional, the production values first-rate. But if you listened closely during the show, you might hear a technician talking on a headset.
All that changes Thursday, when the Schoolhouse Theater and Gallery (the space’s official name) kicks off its 2013 season with Jon Robin Baitz’s drama “Ten Unknowns” on stage, and a show by internationally renowned artist Tom Christopher and Michael Mapes in the gallery.
“Ten Unknowns” concerns a celebrated artist, in a fallow period in his career, who rails at the commercialism of the modern art world from his self-imposed exile in Mexico. When visitors come to call, a mystery unfolds.
For months, the only people near the Schoolhouse stage have been contractor Tim Ruperd and his R&R Construction crew. The fall show was scrubbed to allow the work to be completed.
On the outside, theatergoers will notice a new slate roof with copper downspouts, a larger parking lot with lampposts, new brick stairs out front and a new addition on the rear of the building.
Inside, the old institutional quality bathrooms have been enlarged and freshened and a large lobby now extends off the main hall.
No more waiting shoulder to shoulder in the hall before the house opens.
Once inside the auditorium itself, there are 19 more seats, of a slightly different color. And the lunch-counter window has been sheetrocked over.
High above the seats is what artistic director Pam Moller Kareman and her team have jokingly dubbed “The Steinbrenner Skybox,” a booth for the lighting and sound crew that looks down over the space.
There are also upgrades the audience won’t see: updated dressing rooms, a washer-dryer, a new bathroom with a shower, and a green room (lounge) where actors can relax between scenes.
Also new and unseen to theatergoers is an area Kareman calls “the garage,” a backstage workshop and storage area.
Kareman would not disclose the price tag for the upgrades, but said they represent a lasting commitment on the part of Schoolhouse founding angel Lee Pope to keep the space active and essential as a regional Equity theater.
Kareman was recently named executive director of The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater, the Manhattan acting conservatory whose alumni include such theatrical greats as Eli Wallach, Robert DeNiro, Diane Keaton and Joanne Woodward.
But she will continue to wear her artistic-director hat in Croton Falls — and to direct both “Ten Unknowns” and Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” May 30 to June 23.
“Ten Unknowns,” March 7 to 30. 8 p.m., Thursdays thorugh Saturdays; 3 p.m., Sundays. The Schoolhouse, 3 Owens Road, Croton Falls. $33 for Thursdays and Fridays; $35 Saturdays and Sundays. 914-277-8477. www.shoolhousetheater.org.
Pamela Moller Kareman, the artistic director of the Schoolhouse Theatre in Croton Falls, stands in the newly refurbished theater. Photo by Joe Larese/The Journal News