UP IN LIGHTS: Ricks Centre completes upgrades, eyes more

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GREENFIELD — The H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts has been home to numerous plays, performances and other productions throughout the years, but the lights were beginning to dim at the aging theater.

Literally.

Thanks to the Friends of the Theater group, the lights are shining bright again on Main Street.

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Just last month, the volunteer-run nonprofit finalized a complete makeover to the twinkling marquee outside the theater, at 122 W. Main St. in downtown Greenfield.

They also spent the month overseeing a project that upgraded the lighting throughout the auditorium, enabling patrons to see better when reading playbills or finding their seats.

Both projects involved switching out aging light fixtures with new LED bulbs, giving the marquee a bright new look and enhancing visibility for patrons inside.

The latest lighting project also included enhancing track lighting and lighting up the big display window in the front of the building.

“We wanted to make everything look really nice,” said Amy Studabaker, president of the Friends of the Theater, which has amassed 150 members and raised $78,000 since forming in 2017.

Studabaker commends the community patrons who donated and the Friends of the Theater volunteers who wrote grants to win funding for the projects.

The nonprofit raised $35,000 to renovate the marquee, and $9,200 for the interior lighting upgrades.

Upgrading the stage lighting and curtains is next on the group’s wish list. Replacing the 20-year-old curtains, which are badly worn in places, would cost about $10,000, Studabaker said.

While improving and maintaining a historic theater can be costly, Friends of the Theater members agree that the cost is well worth preserving such a versatile space that can be host to such a dynamic array of arts events in town.

“It’s an old place, so a little extra care has to be taken to take care of it,” said Studabaker, who has performed in various productions on stage there.

Debbie Wilkerson, owner of Wilkerson Dance Studio in Greenfield, agrees. The historic theater is the ideal place for her to put on her annual dance recitals, she said.

The art-deco theater is a great draw to bring people in and introduce them to all that downtown Greenfield has to offer, she said.

The community’s sense of pride in the theater is higher now than it has been in years, said Wilkerson, who has heard a number of compliments about the eye-catching marquee upgrade.

To celebrate the recent overhaul, the theater marquee was recently lit up nightly for two straight weeks.

While the twinkling lights outside will draw people’s attention, theater goers will be even more amazed when they experience the enhanced lighting indoors, said Studabaker, who has attended and performed in a number of productions at the Ricks Centre.

She has a deep appreciation for just how much a vintage theater can mean to a community like Greenfield.

“I came from a community where we did productions up in northern Indiana, and we did not have a building like this,” she said.

“We did a lot of performances that were really valued in our community, but we were always scrounging for a place to do them. When we moved out to Hancock County, we felt like we were so lucky to find a place that valued the arts like Greenfield did, a place where all of the performing groups like Kids Play, Crazy Lake, Ricks-Weil Theatre Co. and Wilkerson Dance Studio can have a place they can call home. The Ricks is really unique,” Studabaker said.

Wilkerson, who serves as treasurer for the Friends of the Theater, is thrilled the theater is getting some much needed TLC in a year when many theater productions have been canceled due to COVID-19.

“I’m really proud of our group, that we’ve been able to continue to facilitate projects and do things for the theater even during this pandemic,” she said.

She hopes the community will continue to support the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts in a year when many are missing the opportunity to enjoy going to the theater.

Fundraising is even more essential since the group’s biggest fundraiser, the Christmas at the Ricks variety show, has been canceled this year.

To learn more about the Friends of the Theater, or to donate to its cause, visit hctheaterfriends.org.

To learn more about the theater, visit rickscentre.com.

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To learn more about the Friends of the Theater, or to donate to its cause, visit hctheaterfriends.org.

To learn more about the theater, visit rickscentre.com.

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