Sept. 26, 2003 – The 25th season at the Reichhold Center for the Arts will get started six months late and run for four months instead of the usual nine, except for a special film showing on Oct. 18-19 that will mark the actual silver anniversary date.
As of now the 1,196-seat amphitheater on St. Thomas is closed for renovations. It's targeted to reopen next March for a season that will run into June, according to Reichhold's director, David Edgecombe.
The main reason, he said, is that the open-air seating areas and interior landscaping are about to be totally revamped. The work is being undertaken because of safety and comfort concerns, he said.
"We are going to take out all of the wooden seats, all of the uncovered seats," Edgecombe said. "We're celebrating our 25th anniversary — that means the wood has been exposed to the elements for 25 years. People are disgruntled with the fact that they have gotten clothes or stockings torn."
In addition, "there's a lot of green in the theater," he said, referring to the live plants between seating areas, "and that attracts the frogs. People have been complaining about frogs jumping up on them during concerts."
So the 840 open-air seats will be replaced and "we'll cut back on the green," he said.
There also is the issue of access to seats in the uncovered areas. "There are three sections," Edgecombe noted. "Each of these sections has only one aisleway. We want to explore putting more aisle space in on either side of the sections." (For a 360-degree visual image of the theater, visit the Reichhold Center Web site and click on "Explore the center." There, you'll also find a history of the theater, built in 1978 at a cost of $3.5 million donated by industrialist Henry Reichhold, who also owned Bluebeard's Castle Hotel at the time.)
The target is "to get all of this done by March of next year," Edgecombe said, "which is when we want to open the season. And it will run until June."
A definite on the program lineup is the 10th annual STARfest talent revue, an in-house production, which is planned for its usual Mother's Day weekend slot. The only off-island performance booked at present, Edgecombe said, is Philadanco — the Philadelphia Dance Company.
The decision to close the theater this fall for renovations "was made in mid-summer," he said. "We had been talking with artists but hadn't signed contracts." He added: "We had been hoping to get B.B. King, but his available date has probably been taken. And we're looking at Al Jarreau."
He noted that the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, which has performed on the Reichhold stage in the fall for the last four years, has been moved to a different venue because of the renovations.
Presented annually by The Forum (formerly The Birch Forum), the orchestra for its fifth appearance has been booked into the Mark C. Marin Center on the Antilles School campus for Nov. 1. "We're helping The Forum with putting it in the Marin Center," Edgecombe said.
A silver screen silver anniversary celebration
There will be one significant exception to the amphitheater's closing. That will occur on Oct. 18 and 19, when the movie "Me and Mrs. Jones," an independent film written, directed and produced by St. Thomas son Edward LaBorde Jr., will be shown in celebration of the actual 25th anniversary.
"The film has been accepted by the BET network for broadcast," Edgecombe said.
It's adult fare, "a love triangle set on the mainland," he said. "A young artist joins a firm that arranges dates on the Internet and that's run by a quite dynamic businesswoman. She has built the company to a point where she is offering to sell 49 percent of the shares for $75 million. She loses her head over the young artist."
Shot in the San Francisco Bay Area, the film is described on Web sites as a sexy comedy. It stars Brian J. White as the artist, Tracy Wainwright; Wanda Christine as boss lady Mrs. Jones, who covets his body; and Kim Fields as Desiree, who steals his heart. Released in 2002, it had its premiere screening as a featured attraction at the 2001 Black Filmworks Festival of Film and Video in Oakland, California, where LaBorde is based. (It should not be confused with a 2002 Masterpiece Theatre TV movie of the same name.)
The film's first showing at the Reichhold Center will be by invitation. It's to recognize "all of our subscribers and people who have worked with the Reichhold and have contributed to the Reichhold," Edgecombe said. LaBorde "will be on hand and will answer questions. We'll have a big birthday cake and some champagne."
The second showing, the following night, will be open to the public, with tickets set at $8, he said.
Seating for both showings will be in the covered section only. "We will have started taking out the wooden seats before that," Edgecombe said. "The lower section will be closed off."
"Me and Mrs. Jones" actually might be the start of something cinematic that would continue during the "non-season," he said. "We are looking at showing a set of other films independently produced as a regular thing … We can go ahead and do films once a month during the winter. If there's a bigger demand, we can increase that."
It would not be the first time for feature films to find a home at the Reichhold. The weeklong first (and to date only) Virgin Islands International Film and Video Festival was held there in February of 2000. In fact, LaBorde's 1997 video short "Gumbo" was one of the offerings. Following the festival, the theater embarked on a spring/summer series of Sunday night showings of mainly award-winning films which received kudos for quality but drew an audience seldom exceeding a hundred people.
Accomplishments and aspirations
Maintaining and upgrading a facility such as the Reichhold Center is an ongoing process, Edgecombe noted. "We have sort of quietly over the past six months been doing repairs to the roof," he said. "We've restained all of the woodwork around the stage, cleaned the whole canopy and repainted it. We still need to do a whole lot more, but we don't have the money."
The order in which other projects will be undertaken will depend on the funding that does become available, he said. A priority is renovating the lower level of the theater, where the offices, dressing rooms and an open lobby are located. "The offices were never put into the regular plan," he said. "They just sort of got added, little by little. The space wasn't thought out. I would gut the space, even move the offices, or do it in such a way that the space is more efficiently used."
As part of that project, he would convert the open space now serving as an occasional art gallery "into more of a real gallery."
Now, "if we won the lottery," he continued, his priority would be to build a small theater seating 100 to 150 people that he envisions as both a live performance venue and a recording facility for video and sound stage productions.
The Reichhold's Digital Media Institute "is more and more coming into its own. We have really no space," he said. "Our hope is that this will over the years grow into 'the School of Media and Culture, the 'School of Performing Arts' or that kind of thing" as part of the University of the Virgin Islands, on whose St. Thomas campus it sits. "I see that as the natural way for the Reichhold to go, to become more of the actual academics of the university, a sort of work-study operation," he said.
The Reichhold's movie-making workshops for young people held for the last two summers have proven so successful th
at the program is "expanding into the schools, including St. Croix," with a grant of more than $100,000 from the Law Enforcement Planning Commission, he said. The program's ultimate objective, he said, is "to dramatically increase the film and video literacy of the Virgin Islands. In four, five years, we would have enough people with that literacy that we could have a department within the university."
The delayed season also is providing the theater management "a year of planning and reassessing where we are," Edgecombe said. "The game has changed radically. Theaters like ours across the United States are hurting. You're seeing a fall-off of ticket sales, and it becomes more expensive to produce shows. The cost of doing business in general has really escalated."
A major economic factor in Reichhold presentations is the cost of bringing artists to St. Thomas, generally from the U.S. mainland. "We have been suffering very badly since 9-11" in this regard, in large part because of the economic crunch facing the airlines, Edgecombe said. Whereas the major carriers "used to give deep discounts, they're not doing that any more," he said.
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