Massive Loss as Irene’s Flood Destroys Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Scenery and Props Building

On August 30, the final day of the 2011 season, just as they were carefully closing up the shop for the winter, Mother Nature, in the form of Tropical Storm Irene, paid a seriously unwelcome visit to the Willliamstown Theatre Festival’s (WTF) new storage space and scenery shop. The storm also did extensive damage to the Weston Playhouse in Weston, VT. (link to story)

The nearby Hoosic River breached its banks and filled their freshly constructed and inventoried prop storage space with ten feet of muddy water. While the WTF says some items may be salvageable, the majority of the stock – collected over half a century – is damaged and will have to be discarded. Loss and damage is estimated to be in the six figure range.

This was the second disaster in 2011. Previously the WTF scene shop was located in the Delftree building, a 19th-century mill in nearby North Adams that also served as a storage facility for 57 years worth of furniture and props. In February of this year, heavy snow load caused the building’s roof to collapse in several spots, including the space leased by WTF. The building was declared unsafe and as a result the WTF was not able to go in and assess the damage until early May.

The new set shop at the Blackinton Mill, set up just months ago.

They then decided to more operations to the historic Blackinton Mill, which was conveniently located not far from the ’62 Center theatres, just over the town line in North Adams. The complex had been recently purchased and the new owners were eager to have WTF as an anchor tenant as they made plans to redevelop the site. WTF assembled a crack team of carpenters and transformed the raw space in the Blackinton Mill into a theatrical scene shop.

As the season approached, crews started moving equipment and materials from the old shop to the new space, a new shop floor was laid, loading ramps were built, new lighting and electrical systems were installed, offices and support spaces were constructed, and hundreds of other improvements and customizations were made. Efficiency, economy, and safety were the key elements in the design of the new shop. In addition, tens of thousands of furniture pieces and props were moved and sorted into the new storage space.

The new scene shop is a considerable upgrade from WTF’s previous site in regards to safety and efficiency. Previously occupying the same large space, the wood shop, metal shop, and paint deck are now separate spaces and office and design facilities are significantly improved. The shop is also a classroom for the Williamstown Theatre Festival where their interns and apprentices can work on a professional level for the first time, and are instructed and mentored by designers and senior members of their staff.

Damage to the Sets and Props Building is severe.

According to an email sent to contributors and ticket buyers, these two unfortunate incidents have forced the Festival to incur roughly $350,000 in expenses over and above its annual budget. The mailing states that these extra bills are starting to pile up and, while WTF is hoping to receive a reasonable insurance settlement and has also applied for funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, it is asking its patrons to help close an anticipated $100,000 gap by the end of September.

“We’ve received an extremely generous challenge gift of $50,000 from an anonymous supporter and have already secured $25,000 from some close friends of the Festival,” stated the message from Eric Kerns, Director of Development. “We ask you to please consider making a tax-deductible gift today to help match the final $25,000. This goal must be reached by September 30.”

Gifts may be sent to:
Scene Shop Challenge
Williamstown Theatre Festival
PO Box 517
Williamstown, MA 01267

For more information, contact Eric Kerns, Director of Development at ekerns@wtfestival.org

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