First phase of FringeArts construction project ready to go

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER FringeArts chief Nick Stuccio in the new performance space.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER FringeArts chief Nick Stuccio in the new performance space.
Posted: October 11, 2013

TONIGHT'S official opening of Philadelphia's newest showcase certainly represents a milestone for the local theater scene, but you'll have to wait another eight months or so to pop the champagne corks.

After 10 years of planning, plotting and fundraising, the FringeArts complex, at Columbus Boulevard and Race Street, debuts with a Fringe Festival favorite, "The Elephant Room," a magic-based piece that runs through Oct. 20.

But as monumental as the building's debut is, it is only the first stage of the $7 million project.

While the 240-seat performance space, dressing rooms, offices and tech areas are ready to go, theatergoers attending tonight's maiden voyage (not counting last Friday's shakedown cruise featuring choreographer Lucinda Childs) will be greeted by a large, under-construction space. It is this that seems to have FringeArts President & Producing Director Nick Stuccio most excited.

"Everything you need for an artist's life and work, we have here," he bragged during an informal tour of the facility, housed in a 110-year-old former fire-department pumping station. "The other part is for the audience."

That "other part," which Stuccio hopes to unveil in June, will not only add some pretty cool amenities for audiences but will, he hopes, play a large part in taking FringeArts' Penn's Landing neighborhood to another level as a nightlife destination.

Plans call for a 3,500-square-foot lobby bar-restaurant with a small stage for cabaret-style acts. The space will serve as a year-round gathering spot, open even when the theater is dark. The kitchen will be run by a soon-to-be-announced chef whom Stuccio described as "an emerging talent" on the Philly culinary scene.

The property includes a portion of Race Street that was isolated during road construction and rerouting a number of years ago. That area, explained Stuccio, will become an al fresco dining space with dramatic views of the adjacent Ben Franklin Bridge.

Parking shouldn't be much of an issue (unless, perhaps, when there is a concert at nearby Festival Pier). There is a large surface lot at Columbus and Vine.

The theater features state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems and retractable seating risers positioned in a way that minimizes blocked views. Along with dressing rooms and office space, the building boasts a spacious, two-story rehearsal studio and a series of catwalks that, Stuccio noted, will facilitate quick changeovers for different productions.

If nothing else, tonight's premiere represents the end of a mind-blowing six-week stretch for Stuccio and his minions, who have been going full blast since the Fringe Festival commenced right after Labor Day.

"Our staff was unbelievable," he crowed. "They just didn't miss a beat. I don't know how they're doing it, but they're doing it. They worked 25 days straight [on the festival], then got right back into it."

Not that anyone on staff needed to be prodded.

"It's energizing, this is super-fun," said Stuccio. "This is a once-in-a-career opportunity to open a really cool building like this, and everybody's up for it."

With so much still to be done, Stuccio doesn't have much time to rest on his laurels. But he certainly appreciates the enormity of what he and his crew have already accomplished.

"Oh my God, it was so great!" he responded when asked how he felt during last Friday's maiden voyage. "All those renderings we looked at, and money we raised. I could do double backflips every time I look at what we have done!"

FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Blvd., 7 p.m. today, Thursday and Oct. 18, 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 20, 4 and 9 p.m. Oct. 19, $49 and $20 (students and ages 25 and under), 215-413-9006, fringearts.com.

'Miles' to go for PTC opener

Tonight, Philadelphia Theatre Company raises the curtain on its 2013-14 season with the opening of "4,000 Miles."

Written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Amy Herzog and directed by Mary B. Robinson, the play, which previews through Tuesday and runs through Nov. 10, focuses on the relationship between a cantankerous woman and her grandson, who unexpectedly arrives at her West Village apartment after a cross-country bike trip.

Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard streets, show times vary, $59-$46, 215-985-0420, philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.


 


On Twitter: @chuckdarrow

Blog: philly.com/Casinotes

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