They have been passing the hat for more than a decade at Nyack’s tiny Elmwood Playhouse.
Someday, their spiel went, we’ll fix the place up with your help.
That someday is today — or, more specifically, Sept. 18 — when Elmwood patrons attending the first preview of Peter Shaffer’s play “Amadeus” will see the first fruits of all that fundraising.
They’ll see a vast, open lobby, with bathrooms on the main floor. They’ll see a concession stand that is cavernous, compared to the tiny counter it replaces. Overhead, they’ll see new lighting and a sprinkler system.
In coming months, they’ll see a new rehearsal space that mirrors the size of the stage. And there’s a new entrance from New Street. All of Phase 1 of the renovation should be completed by the time “Les Miserables” takes the stage in mid-November.
What patrons won’t see is more seats. Village regulations limit the amount of seats to 99. If they were to add seats, Elmwood would have to add a parking lot, which Elmwood doesn’t have.
Photo by Matthew Brown/The Journal News: Neil Goldstein, left, of PJA Consulting Corp., the contractor on the job, Larry Beckerle, center, Elmwood’s president, and Ralph Felice, the man who came up with the plan to revitalize Elmwood Playhouse, in the theater’s vast new lobby. Theatergoers will see the first fruits of a decade of fundraising when “Amadeus” opens for previews on Sept. 18.
Larry Beckerle, Elmwood’s president, says a decade of fundraising — including concerts by Broadway locals Luba Mason and Peter Gregus, a Q&A with film expert Robert Osborne, Feasts for Free raffles where local restaurants donated meals, bake sales, street-fair sales and the generosity of benefactors — put $290,000 in Elmwood’s coffers. The first phase of the renovation is projected to cost about $400,000 and Elmwood is hoping to secure a mortgage to make up the difference.
Like all things Elmwood, the renovation has a family feel to it. Neil Goldstein, the contractor whose PJA Consulting Corp is doing the work, is the son of lifetime member Rhoda Goldstein, a member of the play-selection committee. Beckerle’s mother, Denise, is also a life member. And Ralph Felice, Elmwood’s ombudsman and retired contractor who came up with the project’s overall plan, is married to Elmwood board member Mariann Felice.
Ralph Felice started on the project about four years ago. The last year has been full of engineering work and measurements to get the plan on paper. “We looked at what our needs were and how we could meet them at a reasonable cost,” he says. “We had a lot of space that was poorly used. This is the first time we’ve drawn up a plan for the whole space.”
Elmwood is actually an amalgam of four buildings, some of which date to the 1880s: a church, a taxi company, a stable and a beer distributorship. What Goldstein and his crew found when they opened up the walls downstairs was that tree trunks were holding up the sagging main floor. The trunks went through the floor and down to bare earth. When the crew replaced the girders with engineered lumber and leveled the floor, it was 8 inches higher than before. “The theater is much more sturdy than it was before,” Beckerle says.
The project also uncovered pre-Elmwood history: In another section of the building, the ceiling still bears the charred scars of a long-ago fire.
One of the big challenges, Felice says, is that each of the four buildings has a mind of its own, pulling against the center. There were very few right angles in the project.
Goldstein, who spent his childhood attending Elmwood shows his mother was involved in, says it’s great to give back to the place that has meant so much to his family.
“This is one of the nicer jobs to work on because everybody’s pleased just to get something happening,” he says. “Now, they’ll be able to see what their money’s getting spent on. I want to be here that first night. I really want to see the look on people’s faces when they walk in the door.”
A newly renovated Elmwood Playhouse, 10 Park St., Nyack. The 67th season includes “Amadeus” (Sept. 20-Oct. 12); “Les Miserables” (Nov. 15-Dec. 14); “Love, Loss and What I Wore” (Jan. 17-Feb. 8); “The Pillowman” (March 14-April 5); “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” (May 16-June 14); “Awake and Sing” (July 18-Aug. 9). Season subscription is $114, $99 for seniors and students (discounted rate for Thursday, Fridays and Sundays only). Individual tickets for plays are $22, $19 for students and seniors; individual tickets for musicals are $25 to $28, $23 to $25 for seniors and students. All seats are general admission. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 8 p.m. final Thursday of each run. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.elmwoodplayhouse.com. 845-353-1313.