The Winter Park Playhouse is facing budget battles as it works to make its home permanent before curtain call.
The Winter Park City Commission made an investment in the Winter Park Playhouse last Monday as they voted to provide $25,000 during the upcoming fiscal year to aid the theater’s community outreach programs – a contribution that raised deeper questions about the Playhouse’s permanence in the community.
The beloved theater off of Orange Avenue has been spreading culture to Winter Park residents for 13 years, putting on musicals and other productions to sell-out crowds.
Residents showed their support for the Playhouse on Aug. 10 when the City Commission considered reducing the city’s donation to the theater from $35,000 to $10,000.
“We spend a lot of money on making the city pretty, and I think we should do more for its soul,” said resident and local business owner Brian Wettstein, who is also acting in the Playhouse’s current production of “Dames at Sea.”
“Please do everything in your power to support the Playhouse.”
City Commissioners would later vote to raise the tentative donation to $25,000, but the Winter Park Playhouse still has a desperate need: a permanent location.
Executive Director Heather Alexander and Artistic Director Roy Alan first founded the nonprofit Winter Park Playhouse in 2002, operating out of an Orange Avenue building shared by a local performing arts school. In August 2009 the 73-seat theater took a leap forward, expanding its facility by moving into the adjacent parcel, which gave the theater 50 additional seats, a designated lobby and a designated dressing room.
The Playhouse went on to double its space last October when it acquired the parcel it originally shared at its inception, increasing its lobby space, adding a rehearsal hall and obtaining new office space.
But the Playhouse isn’t done yet. The nonprofit hopes to remove the wall separating the stage from the rehearsal to create an expanded stage and additional seating, which will cost the group between $200,000 and $250,000, including the cost of new lighting and sound equipment.
But the Winter Park Playhouse Board of Directors is reluctant to move forward; at least not without making its location permanent.
The Playhouse has leased its space since its birth in Winter Park, and the owners want to purchase the building before they move forward with any further expansion.
“We’re interested as a nonprofit in securing a permanent home and not having a three- to five-year lease, especially considering the difficulty of a theater to find a relocated home,” Executive Director Heather Alexander said. “You can’t just go into any office building and put a theater in.”
“We very much like where we are … a move is not ideal.”
The current lease for the Playhouse ends in August 2017, meaning the Board of Directors needs to make a decision on the theater’s future within the next year, Alexander said. The building’s landlords will not offer the Playhouse the long-term lease that the theater would like, preferably at least 20 years, Alexander said.
“Are we going to be able to cultivate enough community support to buy the building and get some kind of agreement in place?” Alexander said. “Or are we going to sign a lease praying that the landlords don’t decide to sell the building to someone else? It’s just a precarious situation.”
The Winter Park Playhouse approached the city last year to see if they could contribute $500,000 toward the purchase of the building along with a matching state grant, but backed off the proposal last February after realizing the price tag was much higher than expected.
Alexander would not reveal the total cost of the building, but assured that the Playhouse will most certainly need financial support from the local community to make the deal happen. She stressed the importance of keeping theater alive in the city of culture and heritage, and how the Playhouse hopes to become a permanent piece of what makes Winter Park so special.
“We believe in this community and we know that by being a part of the community it does make peoples’ lives better in a small way,” Alexander said. “Theater is important – it makes people happy and it helps them forget about their sickness or their sadness.”
“It brings a community together.”