RiverStage Community Theatre
New Richmond, Ohio's
Q & A with Bob Baker, Artistic Director
and Tom Dean, Board Member
Question: Do you know what has been located at 310 Washington St. previously, or for how long?
Bob Baker: The original intent of the building when built in about 1887 by Johann Zumvoerde who immigrated to the USA from Germany in 1861 at the age of 12, was to be a dry goods store with apartments on the second level. Forest Hinson eventually became the property owner after several others owned it and ran the AP Appliance Company. Which many living today still remember. Each owner accomplished interior and exterior work by each succeeding owner. It remained vacant for approximately 20 years or more.
Question: What drew you to the building? What was the process like for you to decide you wanted it?
Baker: When we were looking around for a home for the theater three years ago, Linda Shuck mentioned the building, but it wasn't available then, or if it was, we had no knowledge. Last Spring, on a visit, I found out the building indeed was for sale, and to make a long story short, a deal was made. I then successfully sold my property in Huntsville, Alabama and purchased it.
Question: Any memories of it from your youth?
Baker: I shopped with my mother there for furniture and appliances as a child.
Question: What were/are the challenges in renovating it--particularly with regard to turning some of it into a performance space?
Baker: Well, I could write a book regarding that. The last two owners did a lot of work on the interior and a new roof was added in 2016. Vandals broke out windows ($2,000 each to replace). I had them replaced and we unveiled the front for the first time in a very long time in August of 2016. We officially opened the downstairs west wing as an antique shop in October, the weekend of the Arts Festival. Work continues here and there inside with exit lights, fire extinguishers, seating, lighting for theater and more.
Having already been involved in opening two theater spaces here in Alabama gave me some instinct as to what and how to layout the inside for events, be they theatre, reunions or weddings.
Question: What can people expect from the renovation? (Particularly anything that has yet to be done)
Baker: Rustic Victorian with just a touch of glamour, is how I would like to describe the interior renovation. It is a building 130 years old that has been ravaged by some huge floods, some interesting alterations and demolitions (all the apartments were torn out upstairs, probably in the 1960s), some vast amounts of neglect, and you have the historically important building at 310 Washington Street. It was built, thank God, to withstand time and the elements. When I bought the building, the upstairs was inhabited by a very large owl, some pigeons, a few bats. All of that is gone now.
Our plans call to look at restoring the apartments upstairs into guest rooms. When the weather breaks, new historically correct windows are already there, ready to be installed on the second level.
Question: Would you like to share something about your interest in investing in the village both artistically and monetarily?
Baker: I decided that when and if I sold my commercial building in Huntsville, Alabama, that I would come back to New Richmond and do something good for the community! Little did I know I would end up owning this fantastic building that begged to be taken to a state of repair that people could actually come back into it!!! A dream come true. All of us who graduated from New Richmond schools (1962 for me), I feel, owe something back to the community that gave them their very core roots. My board feels this way, they give and give of their time and money and all, I believe, feel it is a labor of love. I am so lucky to be surrounded by these wonderful people, some of whom I have known since my early childhood.
My education at New Richmond schools propelled me into an uncertain future where my aspirations to be an artist did come true! Those early teachers didn't probably think that I would ever amount to anything, as I was not the brightest bulb on the marquee. My parents were simple hard working, honest people who only wanted me to graduate from high school, get a job and stay out of jail!!! I've managed to do all that and then some. I followed in the footsteps of my dad who, once retired from the old Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company (Beckjord), became an entrepreneur, selling his honey and vegetables along old US 52 toward Cincinnati. It was slow but it was good.
Question: Any reasons you think Talley's Folly was a good choice to open the performance space with?
Baker: Our faithful board member, Tom Dean, who is the world’s best lighting designer, has had Talley's Folly on his bucket list since he joined the board approximately two and a half years ago. We listen to our board, we need their input, we need to go with them and their bucket lists when and if ever possible.
Question: Tell us about the antique shop also within the building.
Baker: The antique shop is a viable part of New Richmond, we welcome buyers and browsers, dreamers and designers. We have some lovely stock, trucked up from Alabama or some even purchased in the Clermont County area. My store manager Tracey Davis is there Thursday through Sunday (weather permitting) from noon until 5 pm. She is interested in the New Richmond Village becoming a destination for vacationers and day travelers; for those seeking the beauty of the valley, the unobstructed views of the river, the village, the history and maybe a small antique from the shop.
Tracey, by the way, can even assist with small weddings and hopefully in the near future, will be assisting me in using 310 Washington Hall as a wedding venue with catered dinners, music and a lovely walled garden on the east side of the building.
Question: Tom, what are the challenges in renovating this building--particularly with regard to turning some of it into a performance space?
Tom Dean: The challenges of outfitting a non-theatre space to present plays and musicals is not new to us at RiverStage. Most of our previous productions have been presented at the Market Street Gym in New Richmond. There, we had two performances spaces varying in size from a 30’x15’ stage to a 64’x39’ gym floor. At 310 Washington, we have a 20’x12’ stage area that’s part of a 20’x90’ room; a big change to go from a large wide space like the gym to a small shotgun-style space. The stage is located at the open end of that space, so “walling off the stage” needs to be done so we can have a decent blackout and also so we don’t see people behind the stage on their way to the restroom. We’ll use either curtains or flats to wall off the stage, but still allow actors to enter and leave the stage area next to the dressing room behind the “telephone booth.” (Hopefully, people will look for the “telephone booth”).
From a lighting perspective, there were no places to hang lights, so Randy Pennington and Denny Carr hung three pipes from the ceiling and two pipes next to the wall. The ceiling height of 12’ limits the height of the stage to 16”, but with that elevation everyone should be able to see what’s happening on stage.
We also had plenty of building power and were able to use conventional incandescent lighting instruments to light a show. Now, at 310 Washington, power limitations have forced another approach.
The lighting system at 310 Washington will use LED instruments, which use a fraction of the power that incandescent instruments do. A typical 1000-watt incandescent lamp can be approximated with a 70-watt LED fixture. Instead of one lamp, the LED uses a series of LED lights mounted inside a similar housing. In addition to using less power, LED instruments provide multiple colored LEDs that can be mixed to provide millions of different colors. The quality of “white” from an incandescent lamp is still better than an LED, but advances are made all the time. Some of the LED instruments also have built-in motors which let them move where they point. No longer is an instrument focused on a single spot and unable to be used anywhere else.
Control of the lights will be done wirelessly, where possible. A laptop computer with the right software installed will control all of the lights using a communication protocol called “DMX” (digital multiplex). That DMX signal can now be delivered to the lighting instruments using a wireless transmitter plugged into the computer and wireless receivers plugged into each instrument.
It is a challenge to create a performance space where once washers and dryers were sold. Buildings get repurposed all the time. The interior style of the building is warm and inviting. We hope many theatre fans will choose to experience as we christen 310 Washington as a performance space for the first time in April 2017.