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From warehouse to playhouse

Potomac Playmakers transforming Tusing building

Potomac Playmakers transforming Tusing building

August 10, 2008|By THAISI H. VELASQUEZ

The scene is close to being set.

The original brick walls have been sandblasted and exposed. The black industrial beams have been painted. And a hardwood stage has been added to the bare space.

In the next few months, the downstairs of the old Tusing warehouse off Potomac Street will go through its final stages and become downtown Hagerstown's new Academy Theater.

"It's always been our dream to have a theater of our own," said Ruth Ridenour, president of Potomac Playmakers. "We're hoping the theater will be ready by early this fall."

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For 80 years, the Hagerstown Women's Club was home to the Potomac Playmakers, but a fire at the club in 2006 left the group displaced for two years.

The players suddenly found themselves in need of a theater, one they hoped would be filled with patrons and promise.

"I was in bed one night and the idea to go to the Playmakers just hit me," said Michael Guessford, owner of Always Ron's Restaurant & Catering in Hagerstown.

Ridenour said Guessford approached her and said he had a proposition for her to take to the Playmakers. Guessford and his partner, Milton Stamper, were interested in purchasing the downtown warehouse and wanted Potomac Playmakers to be part of the operation.

The old warehouse, which is to be known as The Academy Theater Banquet and Conference Center, would house the theater, banquet and conference areas and Always Catering, Guessford's catering business.

"I told him we would love to have a theater, as long it's something different than what we've had," Ridenour said.

She said the main issue that patrons had with the old theater was the "lack of visibility."

"The most important thing for us is to have a sloped floor with permanent seats rather than a flat floor with foldout seats," said Dick Hershey, immediate past president of Potomac Playmakers.

"We said if the seats could be renovated in that manner, then we were there," Ridenour said.

Ridenour said the group members had to turn their focus to their dwindling number of patrons and the fact that patrons thought the seating at the Women's Club was uncomfortable.

The Academy Theater is expected to seat 208 people.

The Playmakers hope the new theater, and the new seating, will attract crowds and drive ticket sales.

"We're going to have a nice theater, but a higher rent," Ridenour said.

Ridenour said the lease price was being negotiated, but she estimated the figure would be more than $24,000 per year.

"We are looking forward to moving into a new building, but it's going make us have to raise a few more funds then we have had to before," she said.

Everything the organization has accomplished thus far has been through generous patron donations, ticket sales and advertising, Ridenour said.

Because of the added expenses, that is changing. Potomac Playmakers recently applied for state funding to help pay for the warehouse renovations.

"We have never solicited money from the state or the government for anything until this year," Ridenour said.

Ridenour said the nonprofit organization is hoping to get about $75,000, with $60,000 of that total amount to go toward the warehouse renovations.

"We haven't received the funding yet, but we're hopeful that we we're going to get it," Ridenour said. "It would be a great help to us. Keeping live theater here in Hagerstown is so very important."

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