Playhouse Celebration Slated For Thursday

By Rosalind Guy

DRESS REHEARSAL: This artist's rendering shows what the new Playhouse on the Square building will look like once it's completed at the corner of Union Avenue and Cooper Street in Midtown. -- Rendering Courtesy Of Playhouse On The Square

Construction officially begins Thursday on the new home for Playhouse on the Square, the city's only professional theater company.

To celebrate the beginning of the $12 million project, theater officials plan to hold a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the site of the new theater, across the street from the current one at the corner of Union Avenue and Cooper Street.

City leaders and theater officials are expected to say a few words when the event - "Dig the Scene" - begins at 3. And a brief ceremonial shovel-in-the-dirt event will follow at 3:30 p.m., said Whitney Jo, managing director of Playhouse on the Square.

"But we can't just stick a shovel in the dirt and call it done," Jo said.

Just the beginning

"Dig The Scene"

Groundbreaking for the new Playhouse on the Square
Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
At the northeast corner of Union Avenue and Cooper Street
Food, entertainment and groundbreaking ceremony
For more information, call 725-0776.

So, following the ceremonial beginning of the construction project for the new facility, food and drinks will be served, entertainment will be provided in the form of the retro disco band Funk De Ville, and there will be a couple of other surprise activities.

"This groundbreaking culminates three years of hard work to get us to this point," said Jackie Nichols, founder and executive producer of Playhouse.

Over those three years, more than $11 million has been raised of the $12 million needed to completely fund the project.

The theater will take roughly 14 months to complete, with an expected completion date in summer 2009.

The new theater will be bigger, Jo said, but the best part about the new building is that it was designed to be a professional theater, unlike the old converted movie house in which the theater company is currently housed.

In addition to the extra space, the new Playhouse will have several art galleries, one of which will be affiliated with the Memphis College of Art, and a Theatre Café.

John Morris of Chicago-based Morris Architects designed the new theater. Morris was the architect for Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Complex, which opened in 1991.

Jo said Playhouse officials chose Morris to design the new theater because of the work he's done on the stage as an actor and because he's known for designing professional theaters.

"He used to work in the theater; now he designs them," she said. "So, he understands the sound elements that have to go into it, the design elements, he knows all of that."

Montgomery Martin Contractors Inc. will build the new Memphis venue.

Once construction on the new theater is finished, Jo said moving day will follow.

"As soon as it's complete we will move the next show, if it's possible, before we open over to the new facility," she said. "But we won't have a better idea exactly of the ending date until the first of next year. So, right now we're just leaving it up in the air."

Playhouse also operates Theatre Works and Circuit Playhouse. Circuit Playhouse, which is currently at 1705 Poplar Ave., will move into the current Playhouse space once the company has moved into the newly built theater.

Work has already begun on the five-story space at the corner of Union Avenue and Cooper Street.