It’s down to the wire at Ocean State Theatre


"And here’s the men’s room,” Joel Kipper said, as if he was unveiling a great surprise.

Mayor Scott Avedisian pushed the door open to reveal two men in the process of installing ceiling partitions. There were now toilets and sinks where they hadn’t been only days before.

It seemed possible to imagine the restroom could be serviceable in 27 hours, although paint may still be tacky. But it seemed impossible that everything would be done in time to transform the former Verizon garage on Jefferson Boulevard into the new Ocean State Theatre Company by curtain time last night.

It will still be weeks before everything is in place but, in terms of public spaces, the theater is just about ready. The stage, with its set for The Winter Wonderettes, was aglow Tuesday afternoon as Avedisian was shown around. The banks of seats – 409 of them – most covered with plastic to protect them from dust and paint, were ready for patrons. Carpeting had yet to be installed and the concession stand was still coming together.

“You’re going to open tomorrow?” an incredulous member of the mayor’s contingent asked. “You’re going to have the public here tomorrow?”

“Not until 7,” replied Aimee Turner with a smile. There were still a full 24 hours and then some. Turner is the producing artistic director for the theater company. From her perspective, “The end is in sight.”

That’s a long way from where the building was in August, when work started. At that time it was a cavernous 20,000 square feet in a typical industrial concrete block building, with a flat steel roof and huge overhead doors. The company is leasing the building under a 20-year agreement with property owner Steve Socia. In addition, OSTC is renting the building next door and accompanying parking space. When OTSC picked the building, there was nothing artistic about the place.

That’s changing. The building has been painted a light turquoise, like no other building on Jefferson Boulevard. There’s no missing it. A glass wall rises at the entryway and it’s easy to envision patrons gathered, a buzz rippling through the crowd, during intermission.

Avedisian confessed he had trouble seeing what it might become in August.

“There was a big hole in the floor,” the mayor recalled. That hole became the orchestra pit. “It’s a big change in a few short months,” Avedisian said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Even before the curtain rises, area businesses are seeing the theater’s impact. Managing partner Kipper said theater staff members have become regulars at the nearby Greenwood Inn and Iron Works Tavern. Avedisian reported group bookings at Iron Works for upcoming shows.

The mayor sees the theater as complimenting the nearby Warwick Station District with its plans for mixed office, residential and hotel use. The district is at the heart of the confluence of rail, air and highway traffic and often referred to as the downtown Warwick of tomorrow.

At the moment, Ocean State Theatre could use some of the traffic. Kipper said seats are available at all 25 performances of the Wonderettes and for the 22 scheduled performances of SantaLand Diaries.

“Yes, we have plenty of seats,” he said.

To get the word out, Ocean State mailed 39,000 cards. Kipper said only about 35 to 40 percent of the responders had followed the news that the company was making Warwick home.

Word has spread quickly. Kipper said the company has been flooded with calls from people volunteering as ushers.

“The entire Wethersfield Commons must have been down here,” he joked.

Friday is press night for the Wonderettes. The official grand opening is scheduled for the start of the subscription season on Jan. 23.

Guaranteed by then all but the finishing touches to the administrative offices and a whole bunch of space in the cellar will be done. Nothing stands still at the Ocean State Theatre Company for very long.


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