Feb. 23, 2004 – On Saturday night, the 25th anniversary season of the Reichhold Center for the Arts will open four months later and several shows shorter than usual, but with director David Edgecombe's mission accomplished: all new seating in the uncovered sections of the amphitheater and other physical upgrades for both artists and audiences.
Edgecombe has been the director of the theater for going on 14 of those 25 years. It's a tenure that has taken him and the facility through a once-in-a-century hurricane and a couple of lesser ones and seemingly endless struggles to cope with structural, technical, economic, artistic and political realities.
In that context, replacing the wood in 840 seats wasn't all that daunting. Which is not to say that it was easy.
Matthew Concrete and Construction was the contractor for the seating replacement, utilizing design work by Paradigm Designs. The Reichhold stage crew removed the old wood from the seats. The professionals then removed the metal supports, sand-blasted and repainted them and reinstalled them into the concrete. Then they attached all-new Brazilian wood.
Last Wednesday, as crew members were finishing up sanding the wood, Myrshen George, ticket sales supervisor and marketing assistant, conducted a site tour. The wood slats were cut in Brazil and shipped to St. Thomas, he said, and while the original wood deteriorated considerably in 25 years, what's there now should last for a century.
Patrons taking their seats will notice at once that they feel different — not just in smoothness but in configuration. That's because the seats have one less strip of wood on the seat and one more, extra-wide strip on the back for greater support.
And for folks who opt for the pricier covered section, the upholstered leather seats there are getting a cleaning and should look brand-new on Saturday, George said.
There have been upgrades within the theater superstructure, too:
– A new look for the star dressing rooms.
– Installation of tracks on the walls of the lower-level lobby for the display of artwork.
– Improvements to the display of African art in the lobby, carried out under the direction of Denise Humphrey, the Reichhold's new technical director. Humphrey, who was assistant tech director for several years, also has responsibility in her new position for the theater's digital media program.
The price tag for the work comes to about $200,000, according to George.
One part of the initiative that's still a work in progress, Edgecombe said, is the landscaping. When he announced the renovation plans last fall, two areas of complaint he aimed to address were snags to patrons' clothing from the rough bleacher seats and occasional leaps-in-the-lap by frogs inhabiting the various "green" areas within the amphitheater.
While the initial idea was replace the plants with flora less hospitable to frogs, it's now along the lines of "more than likely we won't have plants in the theater at all," just around the perimeter, he says.
The season at a glance
Of the outside artists booked for this season, Oliver Samuel and Company "is the only act that has been here before," Edgecombe notes. Each season, "we try for a variety of shows — music, dance; drama etc.," he says. "The RCA management group picks the season we would like, and then we set about seeing who's available, when and at what cost. Who we want may not be available when we want them or for a fee we can afford; so we negotiate, go back to the list, juggle things a lot until a season emerges."
On Saturday, Feb. 28, Rhythm & blues singer Jeffrey Osborne, described on one Web site as a "soul survivor," inaugurates the 2004 season. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $65 in the covered section and $45 and $30 in the open-air sections. For an interview with the artist and background on what's brought him "On the Wings of Love" and otherwise to where he is today, see "Reichhold season opener is Jeffrey Osborne".
On Saturday, March 27, the Philadelphia Dance Company — Philadanco — will perform. The high-energy company famed for cutting-edge choreography is renowned for its repertoire spanning ballet, modern and ethnic dance forms. Tickets are $45, $28 and $18.
As part of their appearance, members of Philadanco will be teaching a master class for local dance students.
On Saturday, May 8, and Mother's Day Sunday, May 9, the Reichhold will present STARfest 10, marking a decade of professionally produced programming showcasing the territory's top artistic talent. Tickets are $25, $18 and $12.
"It will be the same production team as last year," Edgecombe says — headed by Josephine Thomas-Lewis as director, Malayisha Rabsatt as choreographer, and Humphrey in charge of set design and lighting. "We may invite some STARfest alumni to be guest artists, but this is not yet a certainty," he adds.
On Saturday, June 19, the theater will be the scene of a Latin Fiesta with the "king of salsa," veteran trombonist and band leader Willie Colón, as headliner. Tickets are $45 and $35.
"There's much local interest in Latin music," Edgecombe says, adding that a Colombian dancer is also under consideration for the fiesta.. And for this season, following on the Reichhold successes of the late Celia Cruz in 2002 and Eddie Palmieri last year, "we hope to involve a lot of the Latin community."
On Saturday, Aug. 14, Caribbean comedy comes back to the Reichhold courtesy of Oliver Samuels and Company with their new side-splitting show "Christopher Cum-Buck-Us." Tickets are $35 and $20. The Reichhold will be taking the program to Island Center for the Performing Arts on St. Croix on Friday, Aug. 13.
Samuel, a comedian with the status of national treasure in his native Jamaica, is "the only act ever to have sold out the Reichhold Center completely for two consecutive nights," Edgecombe says. "He is greatly loved in the Virgin Islands. The audience is always asking us to bring him back."
Ticket outlets for individual shows are the Reichhold box office, the UVI bookstore in the Sports and Fitness Center, both Modern Music shops, Parrot Fish Music, and Krystal & Gifts Galore on St. Thomas; and Connections on St. John. Tickets may be purchased with a charge card by calling the box office at 693-1559.
For those considering taking in all five shows, the Anniversary Series package offers a savings of 5 percent off individual prices with choice seat selection, plus invitations to private meet-the-artist receptions. Package prices are $204 for covered seating and $139 for the lower section in the open air. They're available only at the box office — in person, or by phone with a charge card.
Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays — but until 9 p.m. if it's a performance night..
The Reichhold Web site is in the midst of a makeover. Once it's back in operation, which should be shortly, Edgecombe says, patrons will again be able to order tickets online.
Looking to 2005 and beyond
It's been a few years since the Reichhold has had a summer season of Caribbean play productions, but Edgecombe says he "hasn't ruled it out" for the foreseeable future. The problem, he says, is the venue — or lack thereof. A more intimate setting than the 1,196-seat amphitheater is essential, and he says he has "given up the battle" for access to the Little Theater across the University of the Virgin Islands campus. A viable option is "having a makeshift theater outside the main theater," as was done for the production in 2000 of his play "Smile, Natives,
He also continues to have an interest in film and would like "to do a regular series" at the Reichhold. "We're hoping, if we can get the right kind of sponsorship, to pick the best of the independent films that are making the rounds," he says, "and see if we can bring in the director or the writer and do a showing of the movie and a discussion, especially with the people here who are interested in making film."
Edgecombe, who came aboard as Reichhold director on July 1, 1992, says that in "whatever time I have left" he is committed to a focus on digital media within the theater and the wider university — "for entertainment as well as education."
He says: "My hope is to begin the journey that's going to lead eventually to a school of the arts, a school of culture and digital media [at UVI], so that we deal with television production, music videos, and also use this kind of technology to teach other subjects — whatever kinds of programs you can put together to teach math, teach geography, teach chemistry…"
Looking ahead to Season No. 26, Edgecombe says he expects to get things off to an early start — in September, rather than the traditional October. That's for the very pragmatic reason that an artist high on his list of most-wanted headliners is available then: "We've heard back from Al Jarreau, and he has a September date that he can confirm."
And yes, classical music fans, the Puerto Rico Symphony will return to the Reichhold stage — on Nov. 6.
Shaun A. Pennington also contributed to this report.
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