DreamWrights looks to its future with capital campaign
Draw back the curtain at the DreamWrights Center for Community Arts, and everything has its place.
Not just the lighting and sound board, located above the audience, or the orchestra pit concealed behind the performance stage, but also the props, costumes and custom set pieces are tucked away.
Now the growing community theater and educational arts organization also needs a place for its burgeoning ranks of performance artists to display their works.
Hence the 2016 Capital Campaign, a fundraising effort seeking to raise $2.5 million for interior renovations. The public phase of the campaign opens with a free community event Thursday that is open to the public.
It ought to be a huge production.
"We're calling this 'Putting Growth Center Stage,'" Executive Director Ann Davis said. "Growth is the most important thing. That's the centerpiece of what we do as an educational community arts organization."
DreamWrights caters to people of all ages, not just through the theater but through all facets of production, Davis said. Volunteers from kids to adults can learn the ins and outs of set design and construction, costumes, lighting and sound and, of course, acting and directing. With the pending renovations, the community theater will be able to reach a wider audience and to educate a larger base on all things theater. The center puts on eight stage plays per year.
Update: DreamWrights, formerly known as DreamWrights Youth and Family Theatre, occupies the old Bernstein Sewing Factory building at the intersection of Carlisle Avenue and West Philadelphia Street. The building, constructed in 1902 as a farmers market, is falling behind the ever-changing landscape of building codes and safety features, and its current state does not provide enough space for performances, Davis said.
The goal is to renovate the interior and bring the building up to code while preserving its historical integrity.
"We’re trying to grow our programming and our audiences, we’re trying to protect our historic building, and we’re trying to improve our operations and ensure that we will be here long-term," she said.
The organization recently changed its name to DreamWrights Center for Community Arts to encourage more diversity in its membership. Davis said a lot of people thought the words "family" and "youth" might have excluded them if they were single or did not have children.
A previous campaign in 2005 raised more than $1 million for renovations to the blue cinderblock portion of the building. This year's campaign will focus on the original yellow brick portion visible when driving on Philadelphia Street, and it will involve upgrades from the basement to the second floor of the three-story building.
Plans: Right now, the main entrance to the building leads patrons to an open area with offices and classrooms to the left and Davis' office to the right. Support columns will be removed from the area and steel reinforcements added to the overhead beams for support. The result will be a large, open space for a performance area around which seating can be configured depending on the needs of each show.
"This whole space will be a second performance space. New bathrooms, you have to now have a family bathroom, you now have to have water fountains. There are a lot of different code things that have come up over time," Davis said.
A front stairwell will be redone, a freight elevator will be replaced with a true elevator, and a new concession area will be added.
Upstairs, new dressing rooms are planned, as are additional bathrooms and office space.
"And then along with that, four of our seven HVAC units on the roof, which heat and cool the building, will be replaced, brand-new, which is needed," Davis said. "So there are pieces like that, health and safety pieces that aren’t pretty or sexy or easy to sell, but part of what you need for long-term sustainability.”
Campaign: A portion of the funding raised through the capital campaign comes from grants Davis has applied for and through silent sponsorship. The rest will come from community support in the forms of long-term substantial investments from the well-to-do to smaller one-time donations from the well-intentioned. Those who have less to give but still wish to give over a period of time can of course do so, Davis said.
"We have different giving levels, and we have naming opportunities so if somebody wants to give a certain amount and they want to name something in their name, they can. Some people are interested in that; a lot of people are not," she said.
Every person she speaks to about the campaign is given a pledge card. They can attach any amount to the card and pay over time. Davis explained the renovations will be paid for upfront through a loan, and the funds raised will go toward paying back the loan. Contractors, after all, like to be paid as soon as the work is completed, she said.
After the 2005 campaign, the community arts center was able to pay back all of the loans and pay off its mortgage after just 10 years, she said.
And while any donation, perhaps only $10, is greatly appreciated, the more money the campaign can raise, the more DreamWrights can give back to the community through arts and learning, she said.
Thursday's event will feature several simultaneous performances throughout the building, including short versions of "Legally Blonde," "Seussical" and "As You Like It." Other performers scheduled to appear are StAGES, The Belmont Theater, Weary Arts Group, Kingsfoil, Joel Menchey, The Brendan Malloy Quartet and Devix, as well as a magician and several area youth drill, dance and drum line acts.
The capital campaign seeks to reach its goal by September. For more information about DreamWrights, the upcoming community event or making a contribution, visit the DreamWrights website at www.dreamwrights.org.