GREENFIELD — Things are about to get a lot more comfortable at the Ricks Centre for the Arts in Greenfield.
The 76-year-old theater is on the verge of a major facelift as supporters work to raise enough funds to equip the theater with all new seating and flooring.
The Friends of the Theater group (FoT) has launched a Have A Seat campaign to raise the remaining funds needed to pay for the seats.
For $250, supporters can get a plaque engraved with their name or the name of someone else that will be permanently affixed to a seat.
“What better way to honor someone who enjoys the performing arts. Plus you get to be a little part of Hancock County history,” said Noelle Russell, president of Friends of the Theater and a frequent patron and actress at the Ricks.
Russell has seen a multitude of shows at the historic theater from both the seats and stage, and she knows that new seating is long overdue.
“There is nothing more important to the patron experience than being comfortable when you watch a performance,” she said. “I think anyone who has ever set foot in the Ricks knows that the auditorium could use a little TLC, and that is exactly what we’re going to give it.”
FoT vice president Sandy Miller said the group hopes to secure at least 120 seat sponsorships at $250 each, which would bring in the remaining $30,000 needed to cover the cost of the new seats and flooring for the theater, which seats roughly 360 guests.
The group had already raised $21,750 for the project and have been promised another $20,000 for seating and flooring from the Hancock County Visitors Bureau, which oversees the theater.
The Friends group also helped secure a grant for $65,000 from the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, which will award the grant to the HCVB for theater enhancements.
“If we get 120 seat sponsors, that puts us in a pretty good place to finish our campaign,” said Miller, who admits the current seats at the Ricks are in bad shape.
“Most of them were purchased used and they don’t match. There are seats that have springs in them and many of the springs are broken, so people sit in the seat and they sink to the bottom. There are also seats that are not (fully) attached to the floor so they’re wobbly,” she said.
Miller said the new burgundy cloth seats will be of much higher quality, and should last a long time.
The Greenfield woman has been a supporter of the Ricks theater for decades and fondly recalls watching movies there as a teenager.
“I’ve really been going there my whole life,” she said. “I’ve done a couple of community theater productions there and have performed in talent shows, so it has a fond place in my heart. I’m really delighted to be supporting it.”
Once the money for the new seats is secured, Miller said it will take at least 12 weeks to get the seats produced and delivered, which means they would likely be installed next spring. She anticipates that Friends of the Theater would host an open house to show off the theater once the latest round of improvements are complete, including the installation of new flooring throughout the theater.
Tony Seiler, who took over as manager of the theater in June, said the Friends group has done an amazing job of supporting and enhancing the theater.
The volunteer-led organization has raised more than $136,000 for the theater since the nonprofit’s inception in 2017.
Volunteers led the first capital campaign in 2019, raising $39,000 to restore the theater’s marquee and purchase new letters and LED lighting, which is now set to a timer so the historic marquee can be lit up automatically at night and on weekends.
The group raised another $9,200 to enhance lighting both inside and outside of the theater, which included upgrading exterior window lighting so display cases promoting upcoming productions could be visible at night. Track lighting was also added above the audience seating in the auditorium for improved safety and visibility before and after showtime.
Friends of the Theater also raised $10,000 to replace the stained stage curtains with high-quality plush curtains, all matching the theater’s signature burgundy color scheme.
Most recently, the Friends raised $6,000 to have a wheelchair lift installed so that the stage would be handicap accessible.
“It should be installed fairly soon,” said Russell, who added that it will not only make the stage more accessible, but will be a huge help to musicians and performers who need to move equipment onto the stage.
Seiler was thrilled to hear about the new lift and the campaign to replace the theater’s mismatched, outdated seats. “They definitely need to be replaced. It’s hard to sit on them for too long,” he said.
Miller said that between the ongoing enhancements and the tremendous job Seiler has been doing running the theater, things are looking up at the Ricks Centre for the Arts.
“If you drive by now, you notice there are things on the marquee. There’s almost always something coming up, which is a pretty big change from prior years,” said Miller.
“Tony has done amazing things by really cleaning and organizing and perhaps most importantly booking a lot of acts in the theater to give it some revenue, and increasing awareness in our community that we have this beautiful gem where we can hold all sorts of productions and movies and plays. He’s such a hard worker and we’re thrilled to have him,” she said.
To sponsor a seat or learn more about the Friends of the Theater, visit HCTheaterFriends.org.
To learn more about the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, visit RicksCentre.com.