A group of more than two dozen local advocates for youth and community theater gathered to advocate for the future use of 2nd Story Theatre, which currently sits in private hands and is up for sale.
A group of more than two dozen local advocates for youth and community theater gathered in a large circle of chairs set up within the dimly-lit Event Room at Cutler Mill on Monday night. The mood was jovial and collaborative; the agenda simultaneously simple, yet unavoidably complicated.
All had some connection to the former 2nd Story Theatre, the unassuming structure at 28 Market St. in Warren that opened over 20 years ago and closed its doors in 2018 as a result of financial insolvency, according to its long-time artistic director and founder, Ed Shea.
Some were former actors and actresses of the theater (including a couple who got married on its stage), others were wistful, once-loyal patrons of the theater throughout its history, and others belonged to theater groups and organizations located elsewhere in Rhode Island. They were drawn together for the same purpose — to advocate for the building to be used going forward in a way that advanced the mission of expanding access to local, enriching theatrical performances and programming.
“The shared goal is that we’d all love to see that space revived and to come back better than ever,” said Dena Davis, the impromptu organizer of the meeting and the Artistic Director for Arts Alive! in Barrington, a nonprofit that strives to provide youth theater opportunities in the East Bay and Providence areas.
But the elephant in the room loomed large, and absent from the meeting’s participants. The building is privately owned by Manchester, N.H. real estate developer Brian Thibeault, who secured the property after it was sold in a package to Navigate Credit Union at auction for just $70,000 in October of 2018, along with the buildings at 12 Market St. and the former Liberty Street School building at 10 Liberty St.
He has the property listed for sale at $1.85 million. As of its most recent appraisal, according to local tax assessor data, the building and land were valued at $900,400.
Reached on Tuesday morning, Thibeault, who also owns the building which formerly housed The GAMM Theatre in Pawtucket, said he was in the midst of talks regarding the sale of the building.
“We have a few interested parties in the building, but I can’t comment on anything other than that,” he said.
Importance of theater takes center stage
Participants of the informal meeting understood that they would need to create a formal plan to raise the capital necessary to buy the building, and even if they did, that they had limited, if any, ability to sway Thibeault’s ultimate decision regarding 2nd Story’s fate.
Still, there was a unanimous feeling that bringing a theatrical presence back to Market Street would be of great benefit to Warren, and the region as a whole.
“The whole idea of theater, it’s so important for kids to be involved in, even if they don't choose to pursue it because it builds confidence and all these other life skills, but the most important thing is that builds a sense of empathy and understanding your fellow man from storytelling,” said Allison Crews, Executive Director of Pawtucket’s Burbage Theatre Company. “It’s a very important thing, and I don't think it's maybe achieved properly without that collaboration.”
“We're not trying to create actors,” concurred Davis. “I've been an actor. I worked as an actress by a whole life, and I would not urge children to go into that profession, right, because there’s not very much work. I don't say that we're building actors. I think we're building great humans.”
Ideas were shared freely among the group regarding utilizing the space as it exists — which includes a state-of-the-art kitchen in addition to the spaces formerly used for theatrical performances — for a variety of uses, such as a dinner theater or spaces for dedicated youth and adult performers to use, or as an educational space for theatrical programming. Some envisioned a place where local theater groups could share the space and collaborate.
“I’m dreaming of a shared spaced where there’s just stuff going on and we can all support each other,” said Davis.
When asked if he would hypothetically consider hearing a proposal to purchase the building from a group of likeminded theater advocates who wish to utilize the building for such a purpose, Thibeault was brief in his response.
“If somebody was interested in buying the building, yes obviously I would be interested in that,” he said, adding, “I own the building, I’m talking to some people, other than that I really would rather not say anything.”
If you’re interested in joining the group of community theater advocates, contact Dena Davis at DDavis@ArtsAliveBarrington.org.