With eviction notice, future of Bristol Theatre Company is uncertain

With an eviction pending, theater company wonders where — and if — it will have a new home

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 4/15/21

The town handed the keys to the Reynolds School to the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee in early December, at a time when the concern was that the school would be needed to house an overflow …

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With eviction notice, future of Bristol Theatre Company is uncertain

With an eviction pending, theater company wonders where — and if — it will have a new home

Posted

The town handed the keys to the Reynolds School to the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee in early December, at a time when the concern was that the school would be needed to house an overflow of students caused by the need to socially distance within schools buildings during a pandemic.

While most Reynolds tenants vacated at that time, the Bristol Theatre Company remained. They weren’t staging productions — just storing equipment — and Marie Knapman, their chairman, hoped they would be able to reach some compromise with the school department.

The need for classroom space did not materialize, and so the school district is transferring Reynolds back to the Town of Bristol. Before that happens, however, the theater company’s continues tenancy remains a loose end of sorts, so Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jonathan Brice sent another eviction notice to Ms. Knapman. Dated April 8, it reads, in part:

This letter serves as formal notification to the Bristol Theatre Company that you are to vacate the Reynolds premises as of May 7, 2021.”

“I don’t know what we are going to do at this point,” said Ms. Knapman. The school district says it will work with the theater company to offer the Kickemuit Middle School auditorium for productions, but that is only a small part of the theater company’s needs. Though they functioned as vagabonds for 20 years of their 30-year history, that arrangement was less than ideal. They were able to present only one show a year, compared to the four on a typical year’s schedule in the near-decade since they have made their home at Reynolds.

What’s more, having a permanent home allowed them to apply for grants and grow, like the $18,000 received from the Champlin Foundation for new lighting equipment, received shortly before the start of the pandemic. Those lights, bought and paid for, remain boxed.

Why can’t the theater company stay? According to the town, the need for space remains, for both the school department and local government. Citing a 2008 long-term plan to consolidate town buildings and save money, Town Administrator Steven Contente said the town needs the space for offices and public meeting space. He has made a proposal to the school district that they share the Reynolds School, splitting expenses. “Believe it or not, every square foot is accounted for,” he said.

“We are trying to accommodate them (the theater company), but it’s a public building and the rents were not coming close to covering expenses,” said Mr. Contente. “It’s very expensive to run that building. It needs a $150,000 roof.”

“We’ve been very accommodating, but times have changed, and we cannot justify spending that kind of money on a building housing no town services. We can’t do that to the taxpayers … We will help where we can, but the needs of the town and school need to take priority.”

“The town has been good to us, to the extent that they are able, but it’s nearly impossible to run the theater without having our own space,. We are all volunteers, and this has been like a second full-time job for most of us,” said Ms. Knapman, who also noted that the vast majority of people both engaged with and served by the theater company are Bristol residents.

If the theater could find an appropriate storage space that could also be used for set-building, they might be able to survive by using the middle school auditorium for productions. But they do need a home of some kind, perhaps a warehouse space that could be rented to set up a black box theater.

“We’re in a desperate state, and we need help. We have nowhere to go,” said Ms. Knapman. “After 30 years, this could literally be the end of us.”

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