Carpenter Square to move next to new boulevard
Carpenter Square Theatre is set to make its third move in a decade, but this time operators of the community theater believe they’ve found a longtime home.
The decades-old warehouse at 1009 W Reno Ave. is immediately adjacent to the new Oklahoma City Boulevard, a forgotten location that gains new visibility being located between the flourishing Film Row/Arts District and the Farmers Market District.
The theater, which got its start 36 years ago, first debuted in the Carpenter Paper warehouse at 804 Robert S. Kerr. It was purchased and razed after the passage of the 1989 bond issue to build the county jail and adjoining parking. The theater then moved to a former department store at 400 W Main, where performances were held until 1997, when the group was invited to become the anchor tenant at Stage Center.
That run ended in 2010 when the iconic former Mummers Theater was devastated by floods. The theater then performed at the former Bricktown Conference Center (actually a mile east of Bricktown) until finding its current home at 800 W Main.
As with some of the prior locations, increased value of the immediate area led to the theater organizers being warned they needed to start looking for a new home.
“It was always an interesting relationship with our landlord,” creative director Rhonda Clark said. “A couple of years ago, they thought they might want to sell the property or lease it for double what we’re paying currently. And they didn’t want to sign any more leases with us. They weren’t wanting to kick us out on the drop of a hat. But we’ve been operating month-to-month at this location for more than a year. That really spurred us on.”
Chairman Rick Allen Lippert said the search for a new home that would allow the nonprofit to stay downtown wasn’t easy. Officials discovered many warehouses were either being converted into breweries or marijuana dispensaries or had owners with hopes of landing a higher-paying tenant.
“They all wanted a month-to-month lease,” Lippert said.
A deal was struck for 1009 W Reno Ave. that starts with a 10-year lease with a first right to purchase if the warehouse is ever put up for sale. The warehouse is a few thousand square feet bigger than the current location and even has what was a parts pick up area and window that can easily be converted into a box office.
“It’s a large, empty warehouse,” Lippert said. “And that is perfect for us because we can build it out the way we want it to be built out.”
Clark said the space allows for consolidation of all of the theater’s operations, including its scene shop.
“It has several offices,” Clark said. “They’re not pretty. They need paint, carpeting, and that can be done. Our scene shop will be able to move in pretty easily and start work immediately because the building has adequate electrical service.”
The warehouse, built in 1946, also has 30 adjoining curbside spaces and talks are planned for use of nearby parking lots.
“Access for anyone driving from I-40 is just two minutes,” Clark said. “The boulevard is coming through and it is at our back door. It’s right across our alley. It intersects with Reno just east of this building. It’s going to be great as far as people having easy access.”
The theater, known for its comedy productions, will remain less than 120 seats. Clark said she would love to be the beneficiary of a donation of seats from any movie theater set to close or modernize.
“We’re going to stay intimate. That’s what patrons love about our theater,” she said.
Carpenter Square is community theater, meaning the performers are not professionals, though it does sometimes feature college students and others aspiring for Broadway and looking to gain experience.
“We do longer runs than any of the colleges can or will,” Clark said. “It’s funny, when we have college students perform with us, it’s typical 11 performances over four weekends, and they’re not used to that. It’s a good experience for them.”
Lippert said the theater also frequently features actors who do performances while also appearing in local films and commercials.
“They might do a play for a month,” Lippert said. “We’re very much supporting the film industry by doing community theater. It provides a creative outlet to non-professional for actors, stage designers and costume makers. Not everyone can be a pro. We’re an integral part of the community.”
Currently, the stretch of Reno Avenue and the surrounding area south of the boulevard is an unknown. The new theater home is one block west of the future Lively Beerworks at 815 SW 2, also along the south side of the boulevard, and is a block south of the West Village apartments and retail.
To the west is Farmers Market.
Based on the theater’s history, Lippert believes the area is destined for a revival.
“That’s been our blessing and our curse,” Lippert said. "Now we’re lucky to have found this new location and we hope we never move again. Anyone who wants to know where the next hot area of town is going to be, just find us after we move.”