Stage Left: BPA’s New Buxton Center is Starting to Take Shape!
Frank Buxton might laugh out loud at the thought of a theater being named in his honor. After all, this is a man who wrote and directed many episodes of such iconic television series as The Odd Couple, Mork & Mindy and Happy Days. He also put his comedic chops to work on any number other Hollywood projects over a 40 year career – including the hit comedy Hot Dog in 1970 starring Tommy Smothers, Jonathon Winters and Joanne Worley – before settling on Bainbridge Island in the late 1980s.
He and his wife, Cynthia Sears, were very involved in the evolution of Bainbridge Performing Arts, and he himself helped start the island’s wild and crazy Edge Comedy Troupe. Buxton passed away unexpectedly in 2018, but his legacy will live on with the completion in 2023 of BPA’s Buxton Center, or as it will be formally called, “The Buxton Center for Bainbridge Performing Arts.”
The Buxton Center will be an expansion of the existing BPA – located on Town Square adjacent to City Hall – and include, among others features, a brand new studio theater space, new multi-aisle seating, an expanded lobby and restrooms, a new roof with a solar array, an upgraded box office and administrative offices, improved dressing rooms and HVAC systems, and even an elevator, leading to an upstairs landing area. (You can take a tour by visiting: https://www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org/).
“We’re very excited. It’s been a long time coming,” says Matt Longmire, BPAs Communications and Development Coordinator. “It’s a pretty big footprint increase…We’re lining up the front entrance with Town Square and a (new) patio out front for hosting events and for people gathering before shows.”
The embellishments will add another 5,000 square feet to BPA’s existing footprint of 12,000 square feet. And the improvements will also include upgrades and maintenance on a lot of existing spaces and systems. “This place was really in need of a lot of love,” says Longmire, who joined the organization some two years ago to help manage the fundraising campaign.
To date, BPA has raised $16 million of a goal of raising $18 million to buttress the project. “We hope the community will support us (with additional donations),” adds Campaign Chair John Ellis, a long-time BPA backer and co-founder with Buxton of The Edge. “We hope to close out (fund-raising) by the end of 2022. The project’s on time and on budget…We’re hoping Covid is in the rearview mirror by the time we open.”
Among the new Buxton Center’s more eye-popping aspects will be its two-story tall glass walls surrounding the entryway that will showcase the new lobby, a new concession area, and beautiful new staircase to the second floor. But what may be most apparent to patrons is the new and improved seating.
Standing in the middle of the construction zone, Longmire explains the exciting new changes. “The (main) stage is structurally the same,” he says. “(But) we’ve dug out in front (of the stage) for the orchestra (pit) and decreased the number of seats. The goal is to increase the comfort and improve the experience.”
Longmire says the seats will be two inches wider than the previous 19-inch seats and the new configuration will allow more legroom. Patrons will sit a bit higher above the stage, thanks to a foundational riser, and those located in the upper echelons can access their seats via the stairs or an elevator.
There will also be a loft area for the band, a dedicated room for lighting and sound – it was previously spread around the facility – and, of course, the second stage that will allow actors to practice on one stage while others are performing on another. Longmire says the second stage will be the same size as the main stage and will also be used for other events when not being used for performances.
Meanwhile, BPA is currently holding performances in a Bainbridge Cinemas theater (No. 3) at The Pavilion that has been transformed to accommodate their needs. The Edge, the Bainbridge Symphony, and other groups have acted on the makeshift stage.
Longmire says the organization’s first play in more than two years – “Silent Sky” – is slated to run from April 7-17 in the movie theater. “It’s about astronomy, so we’re going to take advantage of the (theater’s) screen,” he says.
As spring emerges and people begin to get out and about more, Longmire says BPA is planning to have a presence at the Farmer’s Market – typically held on Town Square from April through November – where they hope to promote the new Buxton Center and raise awareness and additional campaign funds.
To subscribe to The Island Wanderer Blog, click here.