It’s a sure bet that the builder of the warehouse at 703 Louisville Rd. never envisioned its current use.
The structure has been partitioned into smaller spaces, one of which is being used as a theater. Ryan McCurdy and Sasha Travis, founders of the Savannah Actor’s Theatre, have big plans for the site -- if they can raise enough money.
“Savannah Actor’s Theatre is a repertory company that does full-year theater for the Lowcountry,” says McCurdy, the theater’s executive director. “We started performing last September.”
The company has put on plays at the Starland District, The Sentient Bean and the late, lamented Tybee Theater Cafe, but wanted a space of its own. McCurdy and Travis paid $3,000 for rent for the space for the month of June, but must raise more than $17,000 if they want to keep it.
“We lose the space if we don’t make the money by June 30,” says Travis, the theater’s artistic director. “The landlord made it very clear that he wants the full year’s rent. If we don’t have it, we’ll have to vacate the space by July 1.”
A strong effort is being made to come up with the money. “We are doing as many events as we can to try to make the rent,” McCurdy says.
Donations are coming in. “It’s a steady trickle,” Travis says. “It’s very difficult to raise money for a project people haven’t seen. There are people who know that we are capable of doing this. We’re hoping and hoping that people will respond to seeing the space and what we are capable of doing.”
Travis and McCurdy are convinced the project can be a success. “I think Savannah will support this,” McCurdy says. “I’ve already gotten email and letters of support. That makes me optimistic.”
At the same time, the two know that they are working against the clock. “I’m aware what a large amount of money it is,” McCurdy says. “We’ll do our darndest to raise the money.”
A loyal group of supporters has already put in long hours on the project. “We open at 10 a.m. in the morning and sometimes we’re there to 2 a.m. the next morning,” McCurdy says. “There’s always someone here.”
“We’re very poor,” Travis says. “Most everything inside the theater is made from stuff we found. We even found an old piano beside the road. It sat in the rain for three days, so we decided no one must want it.”
In-kind donations also have come in.
“We got a lot of really cool items for our silent auction, including beautiful hand-painted wood etchings and a replica of the I Dream of Jeannie bottle,” Travis says. “A lot of companies responded that they couldn’t help us financially right now, but they helped us by giving us items for the auction.
“We’ve received couches, chairs, costumes and shoes,” she says. “We were opening up as a lot of people were moving out of their dorms, so we got a lot of stuff they didn’t want to haul back to Delaware.”
On June 22-24 and June 29 through July 1, the theater will stage a production called Neverwhere. “This is a world premiere of an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s book,” says Travis, who is the show’s director.
Neverwhere is a modern fairy tale about a man named Richard Mayhew who leads a normal but boring life in London. He finds himself in a magical place called London Below.
“It’s where the homeless people live and the people who are forgotten go,“ Travis says. “It’s kind of an Alice in Wonderland story with lots of action. The cast is really solid. I know I’m the director, but I’m enjoying watching the play.”
Admission is free, but donations will be accepted. A performance by the improv troupe Opposite of People Squad will be presented at 10:30 p.m. after each performance of Neverwhere, and admission to that is $8.
In addition to staging their own performances, McCurdy and Travis want to help other theater companies stage theirs. “We would provide the management and the space so that theater companies can say, ‘I want to do this show and I don’t want to have to worry about the when and how,’” Travis says.
“We have lots of space here,” she says. “It’s very difficult to do a show if you don’t have your own space.”
A regional theater roundtable will be held at the theater on June 26 at 8 p.m.
“We’ll try to have monthly meetings with everyone in the area who does theater,” McCurdy says. “Savannah has a strong and vibrant theater community. It can be a theater destination. This city deserves and can have two or three theater companies.”
If the entire amount can’t be raised, new plans will be made. “We’ll put the money in an account and regroup and try to find another space,” Travis says.
“We really think there is a market here for what we do. We just hope that there is a market here for what we’re doing this instant.” w
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Two other theatre companies find homes
The Savannah Actor’s Theatre isn’t the only company to have a new home. The Savannah Children’s Theatre has leased a space in the Crossroads Shopping Plaza at the intersection of Victory and Skidaway.
“We’re in the old Belk building,” says Vann Doubleday, the theater’s technical director. “It is roughly 32,000 square feet.”
That has quintupled the number of people who can be accommodated. “We were sharing a building with a dance studio,” Doubleday says. “We could seat about 40 people. Now we can seat approximately 160 chairs. We also have pillow seating up front for kids that holds about 40.”
Over on Tybee Island, Susie Morris, president of Friends of Tybee Theater, is excited about the acquisition of the Old Post Theater from the Tybee Island Historical Society. The Friends plan to turn the theater into a performing arts venue.
“The project has been going on about five years,” Morris says. “There were technicalities that needed to be dealt with the city, but now we are over all the hurdles.”
The group had to raise $350,000 to purchase the building. “We’re getting ready to start the first phase of renovation, which will be a new roof,” Morris says. “We hope that will start by the end of July.”
The theater currently is not usable. “It’s basically a shell, but it’s a good shell that is structurally sound,” Morris says. “The two previous owners gutted it.”
In addition to a new roof, the building needs ceilings, walls, floors and a stage. It was built circa 1930 by the Army as part of Fort Screven.
Plans are to remain as close as possible to the original design. “We have the blue prints from the war department and know there are other theaters like this one at Fort Benning, and in Maryland and New Jersey,” Morris says.
The renovation is projected to be completed sometime in 2009 and will cost about $1.4 million. “It’s going to be a first-class, state-of-the-art performance building,” Morris says.
“We’ll be able to accommodate musical performances, lectures and movies, as well as theater,” she says. “It possibly might be used as another venue for the Savannah Music Festival, or the SCAD Film Festival. It’s going to be for everyone.”
Morris says the Friends believe the new venue can be a tourism destination. “We think it’ll be a big draw for Tybee once there are performances,” she says. “We’ll have people visit just to see them.”
Volunteers and donations are needed to complete the project. People who are interested can call Morris at 786-0901.