The Union Recorder

June 17, 2013

Community theater space to be the first in Shaw Building

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — The Milledgeville Players are moving closer to calling a portion of the former Shaw Building home for a community theater space with hopes to perform on a new, grand stage in just a few months time.

“We feel lucky to be partnering with the City of Milledgeville on this project. It not only fills our need for a home, but gives us an opportunity to be a community player in the larger effort to bring the Shaw Building back to life,” said John Geist, vice president of the Milledgeville Players. “The potential for innovation, business incubation, art development and exhibition, and technical enhancement is terrific, and we welcome that partnership.”

The local community theater group formed around 2001 and has received success with its performances through the years. Once established, The Milledgeville Players eventually created a formal board management structure, and dialogue of finding a place to call the group’s own began. Geist became chair of the theater search committee in 2010.

“We looked at our finances, did all of the mechanics and started talking about getting our own home. During the next two years, we looked at about 50 buildings in Milledgeville and the general area. I looked at about half a dozen other theater groups to see how they were structured and I got to see some lessons learned,” Geist said. “We were and are blessed with lovely facilities here and talents, but it’s difficult not having our own place in terms of outreach and creating a season.” 

When discussion started about the repurposing of the Shaw Building, the theater performing group saw it as an opportunity to fit into a larger idea.

“The Shaw Building embraces opportunities for innovations ...  along with enhancing the neighborhood of the south and providing a stepping stone out to Central State Hospital. It seemed like the stars were all aligned.” Geist said. “We engaged with my architect son to create a conceptual floor plan and then sent a letter of intent to Mike Couch, then city planner, to inform him of our interest in pursuing a space in the building, our plans with it and our intention to do that at no cost to the city.”

Georgia College Associate Professor of Marketing Renee Fontenot presented Milledgeville City Council with a repurposing proposal for the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Community Business & Arts Development Center last month. The innovation hub will provide a shared space for a wide range of activities fostering the development of community economic potential, according to the proposal’s mission statement. The 93,000 square-foot facility could harbor a community theater, convention center, manufacturing facilities, a production kitchen, art studio, office spaces and tech hub as a few services outlined within the proposal.

The 250-seat theater project, costing upward of $200,000, will be the first project built in the center taking up 12,000 square feet. The floor plan for the space includes a 1,500 square foot lobby area with restrooms, bar and snack counter, and ticketing, which leads to 4,500 square feet of seating space and a 1,000 square foot stage. The area will also house an orchestra pit, full backstage rehearsal space, dressing rooms and storage.

“Our intent is to make it an intimate theater so the audience gets more excited. We will start with chairs and possible seating later depending on how things progress. We want to keep the floor as flexible as possible to leave it open for concerts and possibly expand it for a small convention center for 400 people,” Geist said. “This could be a two- to three-year project depending on how things go. We’ve created a small savings to prepare for this, but we need to do immediate work on fundraising to leverage the money we have, find matching funds and in-kind commitments. We hope to put on a production there this year, but that’s being real aggressive. That doesn’t stop us from dreaming though.”

The Milledgeville Players hope to bring their initiative to the former Shaw Building to move the community forward.

“It’s clearly a boom for the Milledgeville Players to build their own home, but more importantly, I really see the opportunity to participate in bringing life back to the Shaw Building as a major plus. We have a fairly good group of talented folks here with a great liberal arts college, a wonderful high school; Georgia Military College is moving more into the arts and there’s a wealth of talent that can move us into production,” Geist said. “The nature of turning that Shaw Building into a little gem is the thing we want to do. The idea that you can take an old facility and light it up is really exciting.”

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