Patrons used to walk into the Kitchen Theatre wondering if they had come to the right place. Rachel Lampert, the Kitchen Theatre’s artistic director, said there was nothing about their old building that showed it was a theater.
“People would walk in with the tickets and then they’d come to the lobby and say, ‘where’s the theater?’” she said.
But now there is no question they have arrived at a show.
Previously located in the Clinton House on West Seneca Street, the Kitchen Theatre Company moved to its new location at West State Street after conducting a strategic business-analysis plan. The move-in process began the day the theater closed its last show Aug. 1 in the Clinton House and was completed in time for the theater’s season opener Sept. 1.
The first steps in the redesign involved considering the company’s financial stability and reviewing the statistics on its earnings and audience demographics. Lampert said the decision for the move was made with future attendance in mind, as the new location holds 99 seats.
“If we remained at 73 seats, we would probably never reach the goals we had set for ourselves,” Lampert said. “We wanted to function better as a business.”
After spending years tucked away in a more remote area of Ithaca and sharing a space with different arts organizations and a local charter school, Lesley Greene, the company’s associate producing director, said it was time for a place of their own.
“The old building had a lot of artistic limitations,” Greene said. “We’d rehearse during the day in the theater and the bell would ring and kids would be running through the halls and making noises.”
This is not the case at the new location. The revamped theater now mirrors the company’s mission of being bold, intimate and engaging. Coloring its lobby is a potent crimson and edgy black, which accentuate the theater’s modern design.
Lampert said the new building makes more of a statement about how the company is increasing its focus on professionalism. With the eye-catching display of its modern logo on the outside and the all-glass doors inviting patrons inside, Lampert said the renovation has given the Kitchen Theatre a more professional look.
“This [renovation] definitely says that you’ve arrived at some special building when you walk down the street,” Lampert said.
Thanks to more than 250 generous supporters, the new Kitchen Theatre was granted tremendous flexibility with the renovation.
The arena stage is at ground level and sits among the elevated rows of the theater’s 99 seats. Greene said the additional space and equipment, including more lighting and two extra amps, have created greater artistic opportunities and more dramatic production capabilities.
“The biggest difference is onstage space,” Greene said. “The directors have been able to stage the play so that performance comes spilling out at you.”
Lampert said having a full scene shop at the theater enables designers to craft performance sets on-site as opposed to off-site, as before.
The theater is now in a more visited area, only just across the way from State Street Diner and Fine Line Bistro. Lampert said she has already seen the benefits of moving and attributes these benefits to the modern design in an area of increased visibility.
“[People] had to really search for us,” she said. “Our street presence is making a considerable difference. We are discovering that people see the door, open it up and walk in here.”
Lampert said the move has also brought the fulfillment of another company goal — contributing to the community.
“We didn’t want to be in a place where people would have to drive,” Lampert said. “We wanted them to have dinner, then come to the theater, or come to theater and get a drink afterwards.”
Since many of the company’s theatergoers are academic professors, businessmen and women and college students, Lampert said she wanted the theater to be part of the area’s “urban” presence.
“This is a great neighborhood because people frequent the bars that are down here and the restaurants that are down here … our visibility is completely different,” she said.
Manny Flores, an Ithaca resident whose family members are longtime patrons to the Kitchen Theatre, said he is excited about the entrepreneurial opportunities afforded by the theater’s new location.
“If this place does well, then Fine Line [Bistro] does well,” he said. “It just keeps feeding off. The more this sidewalk gets people walking on it, the better.”
Greene said with the move, the staff is just getting to a place where it can look to the future.
“I just hope we get more and more people coming in here. I hope it is people of all ages, especially young people, to come see the theater.”