NEW PORT RICHEY — For 44 years — since 1972 — Richey Suncoast Theatre has presented family friendly plays, musicals, concerts and specialty shows at the former Meighan (movie) Theatre, an Art Deco-style building built in 1925 in downtown New Port Richey.
Now the theater is establishing its first satellite, a 68-seat theater to be housed in the defunct Jimmy Ferraro's Studio Theatre at 5732 Main St.
It will be named in honor of Marie and the late Charlie Skelton, said Marc Yacht, president of the theater's board of directors. The Skeltons are credited with reinvigorating Richey Suncoast when it was near failure in 1998.
"It's going to be a black box theater," said Marie Skelton, executive director of Richey Suncoast. Unlike its parent venue, "it will be geared toward adult, experimental, edgy theater."
That may, or may not, include profanity, serious sexual themes, or coarse or ribald language — things that are verboten at the more conventional parent theater. The shows could include comedies, dramas, dramedies and musicals.
The first production will be Proof, the 2001 Tony Award winner for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama, from Nov. 11-13 and 18-20. Auditions for the play are Sept. 27 and 28, the same time as auditions for the comedy Shakespeare in Hollywood that will be performed at Richey Suncoast in January.
Future book shows at the new venue will be held in February, April, June and August.
"We'll work them between shows at Richey Suncoast," Skelton said.
She is obtaining rights for those shows and will announce them soon. In addition, the new venue will present stand-up comics, small music ensembles, play readings, poetry slams, variety shows and other types of performances suited for the space.
Like a classic black box theater, the configuration will be flexible, with some shows presented in the round, some with a thrust stage and others cabaret style, with small tables and chairs, Skelton said. The regular ticket price will be $20, with season ticket prices to be announced later and other shows priced individually. Whether seating is reserved or open will depend on the show, she said.
"We're gutting the theater, taking down the stage," Skelton said. Workers are also completing the soundproofing of the walls and ceiling. "We want to make sure there's no noise from outside" or from nearby buildings, she said.
They're also walling in underneath the catwalk-like sound and light balcony to add stability and create more storage space. Finally, they're bringing in a slightly raised portable stage that can be configured to meet the demands of each show. As with traditional black box theaters, some shows will be done without a stage.
Most shows will be done with natural voices, not using microphones, except for musicals, Skelton said. It will remain at its 68-seat capacity, though some shows may have fewer seats, as performance space demands. She's hoping to add a backstage restroom for actors, too.
Ferraro left behind the theatrical lights, as well as the light and sound operating boards. Richey Suncoast is buying new chairs and tables that work with the black box theme.
Until two years ago, the space had been a print shop. In early 2014, Ferraro leased the 2,100-square-foot storefront, then removed everything in the building, down to the wall studs. He installed a lobby, concession bar, storage area, two restrooms, a formal stage, dressing rooms, theatrical lights and a light and sound balcony reached by a spiral staircase. From June 6, 2014, to May 22, 2016, he presented a series of small plays and musicals on weekends and gave lessons in theater techniques during the week.
It has been unused since Ferraro closed the doors more than three months ago.
"The new place is meant as a complement to Richey Suncoast," Skelton said. "It needs to be something completely different."
The theater is signing a three-year lease, with an option for three more, she said.
She had high praise for the board of directors for supporting the new venture: Marc Yacht, president; Bob Langford, vice president; Kelly Maki Hackman, secretary/treasurer, and Susan Dillinger, board member.
"They understand the needs of the theater and how important it is to the community," she said. "They're truly devoted to the theater."