Mayor Richard Alcombright, right, theater consultant Martin Vinik, City Councilor Michael Boland and restoration committee member Andrew Hoar discuss the theater's stage. Also on the tour was Michael Nuvallie of the community development office, Administrative Officer Jay Green and Building Inspector William Meranti.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — How many seats can the Mohawk Theater afford? That's the question the city's trying to calculate as it rethinks the use of the historic cinema on Main Street.
City officials toured the facility with theater consultant Martin Vinik of Planning for the Arts LLC and restoration committee member Andrew Hoar on Tuesday afternoon to consider priorities for the long-gestating project.
"This is amazing. It's really nice to see this," said Vinik on his first tour of the building since it was gutted last year. He downplayed officials' concerns over the size and condition of the building. "I've spent a lot of time in far worse theaters."
Mayor Richard Alcombright has repeatedly said he wants a firm plan in place that ties the building's use to its renovations. At last week's Berkshire Chamber "Eggs & Issues" breakfast he said he expected to have a proposal to complete the project by the end of the year. One idea he threw out was reducing the number of seats to accommodate a larger stage.
Phase 1 of the theater project was completed last summer by Eastern General Contractors of Springfield. The interior art deco wall panels, seats, box office, lighting and other items were carefully removed and stored for rehabilitation and restoration. The lobby floor was removed and new supports put in; the space on the west side of the lobby was opened up and the exterior facade was restored and renovated to match the east side of the building.
The cinema has multiple levels; at the top was the projection room.
Plans to push out the back wall, deepen the stage of the cinema and add dressing rooms and storage were dropped two years ago because of spiraling costs. Alcombright said cost continues to be a factor but he doesn't want to limit future uses of the building.
"It will have to be part of the building plan before another nail goes into the wall," he said.
Vinik and Hoar, production designer and technical director at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said some possibilities included removing seats to expand the stage or a creating portable stage and removable seats. The shallow balcony's line of sight would have to be considered in determining the depth of the stage and the type of performance could dictate stage and seating.
The floor above the lobby could be used community space for parties, lectures, conferences or even dances.
Both believed the theater would have greater drawing power for both acts and patrons (and revenue) if its seating remained around 1,000, rather than reducing the number for the sake of the stage. "What you have to ask," said Hoar, "is what makes it different from a high school stage?"
The key, they all agreed, was determining the marketing and management angle. "This is a very significant project," said the mayor. "The management side needs to be more significant."
The bulk of the theater is a separate building in the back; Vinik said the configuration isn't unusual — frontage for retail was very valuable.
"This is very exciting, this is the most discussion we've had on the management side," said Vinik, who's consulted on the project for a number of years.
The mayor said the next step was to "reformulate a strong committee and move forward from there."
The restoration of the 1938 theater has been in the works since the early 1990s. The city took full control of both sections of the theater in 2002. The most recent work had a price tag of $1.7 million; another $2 million in tax credits is available.
Vinik said final design for the interior should be simple. "You should look at the room and see what it wants to be without so much monkeying around," he said.
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Cool story with lots of interesting pix! Tammy, you spoil us....
The people of North Adams are so very fortunate to have city leaders who recognize the historical importance and economic opportunity of the Mohawk Theater AND who understand the necessity of a carefully considered plan for its restoration and reuse. BRAVO! from Theatre Historical Society www.historictheatres.org
Make The Mohawk The MCLA/MoCA/North Adams/Clark/ Mohawk Theater. Could there be any uses for theater laboratories and classrooms upstairs? Costume shops, or prop design studios??? Get MCLA downtown already! Gallery 51 isn't enough and Mr. Secor can only work so many miracles! With MoCA hopefully being forced to support downtown, and MCLA, this should be a BOOMING College /Art Town already! Yes we realize that a tyrant didn't allow anything at all for some 26 years but now anything IS possible! Seize new opportunities and act swiftly before projects or ideas get mothballed.
The rethinking of the Mohawk and its future management and support is important, as is its final operational details. Balancing the number of seats with the size of the stage is going to be a tough choice. Many traveling shows have minimum stage requirements, which are easy to learn from the booking agencies.
They also have financial demands that can be better met with a larger space. The Colonial and Mahaiwe are very close to sell out most of the time since their capacity is well under 1,000. And they have a very close relationship with their ticket buyers.
The comfort of a live performance venue has to be taken very seriously in this age of larger people and high ticket prices. MCLA's Venable theatre has seats that are for midgets and make audiences cramped and uncomfortable. The Hunter Center's plastic portable seating is also hard on one's rear.
Mark my words: if the seating is not at least as comfortable as at a recently constructed movie theatre, you will not be able to get repeat business.
I am glad to see some experienced hands are working on this, Councilor Michael Bolland among them. He has been through the process before, and has quite an inquiring mind. That's what is needed.
And excellence. Let's no "settle" when we can set the pace in North Adams.
I was born in North Adams, grew up in Cheshire before going into the military and I would like to go into the Theater for a movie, play or something. Since I can remember it has never been open. I have never seen the inside. Not once, and if I did it was before I was 5 and that was over 30 years ago. All this talk about how should we use this space for all these years and all the money going into the "projects" and no money coming out. Every year it seems to be the same ole excuses and I am sure their are some native residents young or old that would like to see inside. What about seeting up a walk through with story board on the progress of the building on days their is no work being done? Kind of like a tour so people of the town can see how things are going with the old theater.
Just an idea.
Editor: Awesome idea! They had hoped to do hard-hat tours during Winterfest, but there wasn't the time and people to pull it together. Maybe the Downtown Celebration?
I moved to North Adams in the early 80s and remember seeing a few movies at the Mohawk. Didn't they do dollar nights? The seats were musty and ripped, but what a place to see a movie! And good old Jo-Jo (sp?) outside the theater.
We are so lucky to have a gem like this on Main Street. I am just praying that the city can support it. It cannot be geared towards the summer, out-of-town crowd alone. And I agree with an earlier comment that MCLA should definitely be involved...this is a college town! But sometimes you wouldn't know it by strolling downtown. Embrace our excellent school- it can only benefit us all.
I think its great that we continue to think of different things that we can do with this theatre. I loved going there to see many movies. What a great space!
I am curious if thier are efforts in the works to raise money. I know money is tight in this area but I am sure MANY people would love to chip in and sponsor this beautiful space.
I'm also curious if anyone knows about the smaller IMAX theatres they have put up around the country. Would our theatre be large enough to support such a screen? IMAX along with the historical attributes of this theatre would be a large draw, ontop of stage acts, college use ect.
So many memories...culminating in one/two of the greatest musical events to hit NA: Johnny Cash and his family (including the Tennesee Two.) One night, two shows. Left no career musical stone unturned. Magic at The 'Hawk.
So glad to hear all the positive comments about our beautiful theater and it's endless possibilities. In this city where so many historical venue's were destroyed, I feel we have to make this work to save our past for the future. There were so many great memories in this space and there can be again for us as well as future generations. There are so many ideas to raise money for this project and its uses. We need to take the opportunity to involve every one and the generations to preserve this building for this city and its future potential. I personally have fond memories of the x-mas party's concerts and movie experience in general, just because of it magnificent beauty and history in this our city... We now have to help our new mayor to proceed with this project and say we got it done as a city and a team effort. Please help make this come true for everyone and the future of our city and it's generations to come... Get involved...