COVID was tough on performing arts everywhere, but Bainbridge Performing Arts took advantage of the downtime to give an $18 million renovation to Buxton Center.
About 700 people attended the center’s grand opening Sept. 30.
Matt Longmire, BPA coordinator for Communications and Development, said people reacted to the new building in different ways. The general themes were how beautiful the building is, how much potential it has for future events, how excited people were to come back to the center, and how newcomers who moved here during COVID were eager to go to the new center.
Many visitors were excited about the studio space, which allowed nonprofits Bloedel Reserve, Battle Point Astronomical Association, Arts & Humanities Bainbridge, BI Museum of Art and Vitalize Kitsap to connect with visitors at the grand opening.
The excitement to return to the theater has already impacted the box office. “People were surprised that the Edge Improv was already sold out,” Longmire said of the Oct. 7 performance. The opening night of the Prom is nearly sold out. “It’s very exciting to have season tickets again. People are booking tickets way out in advance. We have shows in April that are already sold out,” Longmire said.
He said attendees were a mix of newcomers and people excited to see what we did with what we had. “We were really surprised about so many people who don’t know about BPA,” he added.
Longmire said leadership was considering a recapitalization of their primary venue even before the pandemic. So, on Oct. 9 2021, in the face of massive calamity for the theater business, BPA broke ground on the renovation, aided financially by many in the community, especially Buxton, of Hollywood film production notoriety, for whom the revamped facility is named.
During the rest of COVID and the ongoing renovation, BPA didn’t cease to operate. Deirdre Hadlock, BPA production manager, described the wide range of activities that kept the theater company busy prior to the grand opening. With restrictions on contact and proximity, it was impossible to continue operations as normal. But, they substituted with weekly podcasts, use of the Bainbridge Cinema’s facilities, and outdoor productions as well.
New features at the center include Americans with Disabilities Act compliance for all spaces, such as a doubling of the seating in the main theater, the addition of a “Sensory Access Room” (designed to modify the lighting and sound levels of patrons sensitive to those aspects of a performance), and a new performance/presentation/meeting space.
Less visible are infrastructure improvements, such as solar, LED, HVAC, and water conservation systems. Given all the green improvements, Longmire said BPA expects the Buxton Center will receive the coveted LEED Gold certification.
With Elizabeth Allum, the incoming executive director, at the helm, BPA looks forward to putting on the traditional five productions this coming season, with one of those being an outdoor Shakespearean presentation at the Bloedel Reserve, also a tradition.