By: John Farr
For those who haven’t heard, we have exciting news: the historic Bedford Playhouse is being transformed into a vibrant cultural resource that will enrich the lives of area residents.
The NEW Playhouse will feature three state-of-the-art movie theaters- one of them fairly large, the other two smaller and more intimate, showing first-run independent, foreign, and documentary films, as well as classics and family favorites.
But it will offer more than just film: there will be space for small musical and theatrical performances, distinguished speakers, educational programs, wine tastings and other private events. We will also have a café on the first floor, open all day, offering delicious light fare, wine and spirits.
How did this happen?
I’d first been notified that the Playhouse was at risk in the summer of 2014, and quickly launched a grassroots effort to prevent it from being turned into retail space. In the beginning, I wasn’t optimistic. We had no resources, and the clock was ticking.
The old Playhouse had lost money as a for-profit movie house. I believed a not-for-profit model could work (very much like the Avon in Stamford), and began dreaming of an arts house cinema right in the heart of Bedford, a place that residents from Greenwich, New Canaan, Katonah and Pound Ridge could easily access.
However, I recognized from the outset that it wouldn’t be easy. Such organizations rely on member support and events, making the existing Playhouse configuration- no stages, narrow theaters, small screens- sorely inadequate. I knew we’d have to renovate.
I then met with Playhouse owner Ken Horn of Alchemy Properties. He too wanted to save the theater, and agreed to support us. He provided a small marketing stipend, and access to his architects to develop initial plans and estimates.
Incredibly, we raised $2.5 million in the first three months of 2015, enough to save the theater and convince Ken he no longer needed to explore other options. The vast majority of these funds came from Bedford residents.
Then the real work began. Having received our NFP status, we formed a board, negotiated a lease, developed marketing plans and new branded materials, hired development staff, built a prospect database, crafted a coordinated fundraising effort, redeemed pledges, and refined our business plan.
We secured all building permits/ADA approvals, launched a parking initiative, refined architectural plans, began interior design work, sourced and vetted café operators, spec’d digital equipment and theater seating, and completed pre-construction work and demolition.
We soon realized that the architect’s original estimates were low. Initially, we had no time or money to hire a construction professional to thoroughly inspect the space. Also, several months later we decided to add a third, flexible-use theater. That may sound extravagant, but really it’s not. Every decision we make balances the need to contain costs with the imperative to create a theater that can succeed over time. A third space will enhance the variety of our offerings, so people return more often.
We’ve just launched our final fundraising push via direct marketing, posters, PR and a series of events. Our goal is to raise the bulk of dollars by Fall. A key part of our strategy is to reach out beyond Bedford to you in the Greenwich community. We recognize many of you haven’t been aware of what we’re up to, and hope we can count on your support now that you do.
We know from the success of Caramoor, The Bedford Post and Jean Georges in Pound Ridge that Greenwich residents will frequent Bedford-area destinations if it’s worth their time. We firmly believe that the re-imagined Playhouse will become another such venue.
Assuming a construction schedule of roughly ten months, we’d aim to open by the Summer of 2017, just in time to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Playhouse. With $3.4 million raised to-date, we’re already over halfway there. But we can’t commit to construction until we’ve made a lot more progress towards our ultimate goal.
Now we’re asking our Greenwich neighbors to pitch in. We want to meet people in your area willing to champion the cause and host small events for us. If you’re interested, please contact us at (914)-659-8292. Or- to make your tax-deductible donation, please visit www.bedfordplayhouse.org.
With your help, we will finish what we started, and create a vibrant destination that you and your family will enjoy for decades to come.
John Farr is president of the Bedford Playhouse, and also editor of bestmoviesbyfarr.com, a curation site for watching movies at home or on-the-go, He was also a co-founder of the Avon Theatre in Stamford, CT.