PUTNEY — A total transformation of the Next Stage, Arts Project theater will be complete in time for its reopening event Friday.

As of last Saturday, paint was drying, walls were under construction, seating was not installed, audio equipment was underway and workers were working day in and day out at Next Stage to complete the project. Despite the extensive to-do list, Next Stage Executive Director, Maria Basescu is confident that the space will be ready for Friday night's reopening event that features a holiday A cappella performance by the GrooveBarbers, and special appearance from the Putney Central School Chorus.

"Why make this the opening event? It's open to families, it's community wide and it seemed like it would have a broad appeal to all generations and just be really fun and festive," said Basescu. "Next Stage is about the arts, but it's also about using the performing arts to build community, it's not just about entertainment."

Next Stage Arts Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping art happen through the programming, development and operation of the 160 seat Next Stage theater, a performing arts facility in Putney. Next Stage was founded by Eric Bass, John Burt, Chip Greenberg, Barry Stockwell and Billy Straus and now operates by its 11 board of directors and volunteers. The Next Stage Arts Project (NASP) and the Putney Historical Society (PHS) have been conducting a $1.5 million capital campaign since 2014 to further transform the former church on Kimball Hill into a more accessible and modern performing arts and community center. The church was built by locals in 1841, and the board at Next Stage saw a serious need for some renovations.


According to Basescu, GPI Construction Inc. won the bid for the project because they are local and have experience with many of the protocols that are called for with this time of project. She says that the restoration portion of the project is complicated because of the historical factors that need to be considered, especially with the tin, lead ceiling that the team at Next Stage wanted especially highlighted.

"This whole project is about community," said Basescu. "And the design of the renovation has been very much focused on that."

This mission of bringing people together through the basic layout of the building has been set-out primarily through the seating arrangements. The construction crew got rid of the old pews and built raised seating, that holds a capacity up to 200 people. There is a box office at the entrance of the building where people can purchase their general admission ticket in person, or call ahead to reserve a numbered seat of their choosing.

"This way, you're all connected together in once block, and now there's absolutely no bad seat in the house, you won't be straining to look over someone's head in front of you," said Basescu.

David Washburn paints parts of a window as crews race to finish the Next Stage in Putney last Friday for its reopening celebration.
David Washburn paints parts of a window as crews race to finish the Next Stage in Putney last Friday for its reopening celebration.

The project involves three-phases of renovation. As of last Friday it was at the tail end of phase two. Phase three involves some work that must be complete before Friday. Phase three involves the following: outfitting the fully functional commercial grade kitchen; painting the interior and exterior and of the building; refinishing the floors; completing the ticket booth and heated interior lobby vestibule; completing the exterior painting and historic window repair and restoration; completing upgrades to lighting, sound systems, technology, loft and equipment and solidification of the building maintenance fund and programming services.

Basescu said her and everyone involved with project are trying their best to remain and calm, but are especially thankful for all of the support through hard labor volunteers and those that contributed monetarily.

"We've raised $1.2 million dollars so far and we'll have to raise another $400,000 to complete the work," said Basescu. "We'll still have a lot of work to do in terms of down stairs, floors painting, exterior work on the building and the landscaping. It is going to be a work in progress, quite actively through 2016, but on opening day it will be comfortable and functional."

The $1.2 million dollars have been raised through pledges and contributions from over 160 donors and some grants, which includes one $320,000 grant from ArtPlace America. 14 Foundations have made monetary donations to the project as well.

Basescu has said that the biggest challenge so far has been finding a solid pace through the process, but she put a positive spin on the stress and said she is most looking forward to the look on people's faces when they see this transformation.

"It will be hard to miss how this is the labor of love by so many people," said Basescu.

Tonight at 8 p.m., there will be a soft opening at Next Stage when the Yellow Barn performs a preview of its work that they will formally premiere in Texas on Saturday.

Friday night's opening event welcomes guest to free cupcakes, cider and a tour of the building from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Then at 7 p.m., Next Stage will welcome the Putney Central School Chorus and The GrooveBarbers for its 2nd Annual A cappella Holiday Concert Extravaganza. Concert tickets are $15 for adults, $7.50 for children, $40 max per family and children under six-years-old are free. Tickets are available at www.nextstagearts.org.

"We believe very strongly in bringing people together for a live experience," said Basescu. "This is your space, come enjoy it."

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275