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OPEN SPACE: Back on the playing field

 | lenise@yesweekly.com

More than a year and a half ago a local theater took what would become its final bow…at least until now.

Open Space Café Theater, a nonprofit community theater in Greensboro, had closed its doors during a struggling search for a new venue, but now calls Carolina Theatre home.

Formerly the theater operated in a space on Market Street—a former Asian grocery store—and had been up and running for six years since 2007. “We outgrew that space,” said Joe Nierle, OSCT founder and director.

And so the search for a new home base began. First, the theater found what would be a temporary home at Loving Savior Lutheran Church on Battleground Avenue, but was forced to move due to unknown expenses.

Not only would the group have to purchase the new space and have it rezoned for the business, there would be other costs, too. After three plays at the location, OSCT closed in September 2012.

Nierle says that after the rezoning was approved, they discovered that they would still have to connect their new building to the water and sewer line and the expense outweighed the investment.

“But our directors were resolute that we would continue in a new space,” Nierle said. “One thing about Open Space is how strong our board of directors is. I know the theater is in strong hands. I could step away and it would keep going and that was my goal all along.”

The nonprofit found its refuge and resurgence earlier this year in a 150-seat theater on the renovated third-floor space at the Carolina Theatre—Crown Stage.

“It’s great to have a new home,” Nierle said. “So many of our regular patrons from the years before are back (at our new space). They had been following us and contacted us a lot (to see if we were re-opening).”

“It’s great because it still goes with our name, ‘Open Space,’ because we can do theater in the round,” Nierle added. “And it still has a café, too, that Carolina runs, along with the box office, name and marquee.”

Nierle said they have a contract with the historic and classic venue, which includes payment for the space rental, box office service, technical crew and house manager, but they only have to pay per production rather than paying for the upkeep all year.

That means that the theater can simply pay for their productions through ticket sales, fundraising and sponsorships.

Nierle said the new location at Carolina Theatre in downtown Greensboro is a more ideal solution, too, because it’s more in the heart of the theater community.

“The only draw back is it cuts down on rehearsal time because we can’t afford to rent the space for as many rehearsals as we’d like,” he said.

After fundraising efforts and selling out their first production, Hey, Old Friends in April, Nierle says the theater is now financially stable for the rest of the season. “We had to turn people away,” Niele said about his play’s success.

Performing the play was a smart move for the re-up and coming theater. Since Nierle wrote it, the theatre avoided having to pay royalties. Nierle has written five plays in his career, including the theater’s most popular production, Ebenezer’s Trailer Park Christmas Speck-Tac-Yule-R, which it will be bringing back to the stage in December.

So what’s next for Open Space? The theater will continue its season with a teen production of RENT by Jonathan Larson in July. The cast of 20 includes actors that range in age from 14-20. In October, the theater will scare audiences with a Halloween musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Nierle said that the show was originally on the schedule at the church, and so they wanted to move forward with it. One night of the production, ticket holders will also get free admission into the movie that Carolina Theater will be showing downstairs later in the evening.

“We’re trying to touch base with our previous patrons, but also reach a new audience too,” Nierle said about the theater’s direction. “That’s why we’re looking at producing both traditional and edgy musicals.” !

WANNAgo?

Open Space Café Theatre’s production of RENT performs at the Crown Stage on the third floor of Carolina Theatre, 310 S. Greene St., Greensboro, July 16-19. Tickets are $15. For tickets or more information call 333-2605 or visit www. Carolinatheatre.com.

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