Longtime patrons of Richey Suncoast Theatre will see a big difference in the lobby area when they go to shows this year, but the biggest changes will be what they hear.
"We've put in a new and bigger sound board with room enough for 19 body mikes," said Marie Skelton, executive director. A new state-of-the-art looping system for the hearing impaired includes a tiny wire around the perimeter of the downstairs auditorium that will pick up sounds from the body mikes and send them directly to hearing aids and other sound-catching devices in the audience. The latter can be borrowed from the box office at no charge; just leave a credit card or driver's license for security.
There are also two speakers high on the lobby walls that will broadcast the show from the stage, so patrons who need to leave the theater to cough or soothe a restless child — or who arrive too late to be immediately seated — can keep up with the show.
The old sound board will be available for guest artists to use, and sound hookups have been installed in the floor of the stage so performers can plug instruments and microphones directly into the RST system.
The visual surprises are in the lobby, which has bright new paint, Art Deco light sconces to match those in the auditorium, silver crown molding and padded, wooden storage benches around the perimeters of both the box office and concession stand area. "Those hold the sandbags we need when we have a heavy rain," Skelton said. Before, those bags had to be lugged from hiding places all over the theater.
One wall in the box office area is being dedicated to the late Charlie Skelton, who, along with wife Marie, is credited with reviving the theater from near-extinction after they arrived in the late 1990s. A portrait painted by Florence Baldassarre, plaques, photo collages and other memorabilia will recall his career there. The walls of the concession area lobby will hold photos of cast and crews from past and present shows and a "Hall of Fame" wall with autographed photos of guest artists.
There will be a formal, invitation-only dedication of the new lobby decor at 7 p.m. Thursday. Donations are still being accepted to the Charlie Skelton Memorial Fund, which paid for much of the current renovations. Doors will open to all at 7:30 p.m., followed by opening night of the musical Company.