Stage set for Liberty Street School sale

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Warren's 2nd Story Theatre could be the next owner of the Liberty Street School.

The Warren Town Council agreed last Tuesday to sell the 1847 schoolhouse to the non-profit theatre company for $100,000. Since the sale of public property requires a public vote, it will need to be approved by voters at Financial Town Meeting in May.

Until then, town officials are working with 2nd Story on a purchase and sales agreement and may rent the building to the company prior to the closing and sale.

For 2nd Story's artistic director Ed Shea, taking over the old school would be a huge boon for the non-profit, which has called Warren home for a little over a decade. The school won't be used for public performances; rather, the plan is to use it as a rehearsal space and set workshop. Doing both in 2nd Story's current home on Market Street is difficult due to space constraints, but that won't be an issue on Liberty Street, Mr. Shea said.

"One of the issues we've had is space," he said. "We never had a designated rehearsal room. Most theaters our size have that, but we've been rehearsing mostly in the office."

Another issue has been set design, which was made more complicated when 2nd Story moved from its former "in the round" configuration to its current, more traditional proscenium layout. Though the old in the round setting was good for intimacy, it didn't give 2nd Story a chance to design interesting, elaborate sets.

"I wanted to change that," said Mr. Shea. "I was getting kind of bored with it. While the plays were exciting they were visually fairly limited."

The arrival of a new set designer, Trevor Elliot, helped herald in the prosecium change, and his prowess with set design has grown with every one he's done since. However, having a small workshop in the basement has been hard. The ceiling is only eight feet tall, though the stage can handle 12-foot sets.

At Liberty Street, Mr. Elliot will have access to 13-foot ceilings and plenty of space for construction. There will also be plenty of space for rehearsal, too; one of the plans is to remove a wall separating two classrooms on the second floor to open up a large rehearsal space.

"It will give us plenty of room," Mr. Shea said.

The sale will likely be easier to swallow for Liberty Street residents who would have seen parking crunches under previous plans for the building. There is plenty of room behind the old school for set workers' and performers' cars, so 2nd Story will not use precious on-street parking, Mr. Shea said.

The proposed sale, if approved, would bring to a close years of work by the town to find a new owner for the property. Town officials have entertained at least half a dozen proposals for the school over the last five years, none of which worked out. Almost all of those plans were from for-profit developers who wanted to turn the landmark brick building into condominiums or apartments.

 

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.