The Apollinaire Theatre is well underway to becoming a hub for Boston’s experimental theatre scene right in Chelsea Square with a major renovation of the Theatre’s spacious facilities.
Danielle Fateaux Jacques, Apollinaire founder and owner, and Development Coordinator Trip Venturella officially announced the plans and treated the Record to a behind-the-scenes (no pun intended) tour of the project on Monday. The announcement was in conjunction with an announcement by MassDevelopment of a $250,000 to support the project.
“We sort of started this theatre as a way to take the energy of Apollinaire Theatre and create a center of artistic energy and vitality in Chelsea Square and this is expanding it to spaces that weren’t fulfilling that desire,” said Venturella. “It was an artistic no-brainer to me. Of course, you want to bring in these innovative companies. Way back when Danielle bought the building (in the early 2000s), I think she had the vision of making this into a community hotbed for performance. This corresponded with that vision. It was sort of us seizing the moment. We are really excited for the project. It’s going to be transformative.”
Venturella outlined that the major renovations will not take place in the main theatre on the second floor of the building, which is in quite good shape. Aside from a few bathrooms to be added, it will remain the same.
“The idea is that the upstairs has an Old World elegance and downstairs would be a funky burgeoning art space,” he said.
The changes come on the first floor, where Apollinaire is constructing a full Black Box Theatre space where a furniture store used to be. Next to that, in another storefront, there will be a full youth theatre space for youth programs and youth performances – something Apollinaire has done for years.
Venturella said Apollinaire will not be using the Black Box for its own productions.
Instead, they will be renting out the space to theatre groups that have – in recent years – found themselves homeless.
Venturella said there is an explosion in theatre companies and works in Boston, but there are few places for them to perform. Many are doing innovative works, creating weird and unique productions, but having nowhere to present that artistic work.
Apollinaire looks to fill that void.
“There is plenty of spaces in Boston that are huge – like 3,000 seats,” he said. “There are plenty of spaces in Boston that are 200 to 300 seats. But, there are no spaces in Boston under 99 seats. There are only a very few. One place is a repurposed building and looks it. Some of the other places are adventurous places to do theatre, such as arcades, churches, or found spaces. The Charlestown Working Theatre and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre are great, but they tend to have their own productions. There are just a lot of gypsy companies that don’t have space and have incredible potential.”
He said one part of that equation is that rents are going up in so many places, and apartment buildings or other spaces where theatre was done is no longer welcome as redevelopment happens in formerly undesirable locations.
Also, there are so many groups forming in the Boston area that space is hard to book.
“There is an explosion of small theatre companies and I don’t know why that is,” he said. “Maybe there are more people moving to Boston who are interested in theatre. We hope that some of those companies would want to come here and use these facilities. We’re ready to welcome them. We hope it becomes a hub not only for Greater Boston performance, but also a cultural hub for Chelsea.”
Because Apollinaire owns the building, Venturella said those renting the Black Box Theatre can take advantage of the many underutilized spaces within the building – including areas to rehearse lines and areas in the basement to build sets. They can set up, he said, and use other parts of the building while they prepare for the actual performance.
He said they envision renting out the Black Box on a weekly basis.
A Black Box theatre is a minimalist production where there is not main stage and the audience is very close to the performance, which happens literally in a black room with dramatic lighting. The focus, obviously, is on the acting and the writing rather than full production values like sets and costumes.
The Youth Theatre is something that Apollinaire always planned to do, reserving the first-floor space for a similar small theatre, along with a gallery/foyer area and rehearsal space.
Right now, the spaces have been fully gutted, and workers are framing the spaces and exposing unique elements like a brick wall that still appears to have baked-in soot from a fire long ago. Venturella said the key date to finish is in August, as that’s when the new theatre season will start.
“This has to be completed by the summer,” he said. “The big date for us is late A
ugust – August 28. Companies start their seasons on a school schedule. It’s very important for us to have that season booked in August.”
Funding comes from a variety of sources, including the major MassDevelopment grant announced last week. Other funding sources came from the City of Chelsea, from a refinancing of the building, from Chelsea native Benson Riseman and from local business owners and long-time supporters.