Beyond Button Hole Golf Course at 180 Button Hole Drive in Providence lies an unassuming strip of buildings. For years, the Academy Players have called the tiny black box theater inside home. However, this season, past visitors will notice that things look a little different … okay, a lot different.
Thanks to the efforts and vision of the Maron family, who own the strip of buildings, including Rita Maron, the Academy Players’ artistic director, and her husband, Thomas, who happens to own a construction company, what was once a small theater has undergone a major transformation into the James and Gloria Maron Cultural Center of the Arts. Not only is the theater twice its original size, now seating between 150 and 175 people versus 87, there are now spaces for classes in the visual and performing arts for the community.
The new center is also equipped with new dressing rooms, up a ramp from stage left — a big change from the law offices performers used to use that required them to go outside in order to get from there to the theater. Additionally, what was once a simple table off to the side of the performance area is now a fully blown concessions stand named “Keri’s Koncessions,” in memory of the daughter of Frank O’Donnell, who was killed in a car crash several years ago at the age of 15.
The project was funded with the help of a $60,000 grant from the Rhode Island Council on the Arts. Much of the work was completed at no charge by Thomas Maron’s construction company and other Rhode Island business, making the $200,000 undertaking possible for a group that relies on volunteer efforts and public support.
“It’s unlike anything in Rhode Island. Not many have the opportunity that we have, and what we have done with the space is a little bit different,” said Rita Maron.
Thus far, the new space has been kept tightly under wraps, according to Maron. “We really wanted to have that ‘wow’ effect, we really want to surprise the public. We just had one of our board members start today, and he got emotional and teary eyed.”
Though the official opening is still a few months away, the center is already abuzz with activity between the summer teen intensive and classes in photography, voice and dance. The teen intensive culminates with a performance of Forbidden Broadway, which will serve as the soft opening the weekend of Aug 3. Come the grand opening on Sept 13, the center will not be the only thing new on display, as the Rhode Island premiere of Newsies will hit the stage, having just been made available for amateur theater groups to perform this past March.
Though much has been done already, even more changes are on the horizon, with plans for a new sound system and a outdoor patio area with an amphitheater, as well as hopes to offer more classes. Maron eventually hopes to apply for more grants and partner with schools to help pay instructors and cover other costs, allowing them to provide classes for students who could not afford them elsewhere.
The new center promises to expand upon the Academy Players’ mission of giving back to the community through charitable efforts and by providing education in the arts and a medium of expression to participants in their programs.