Thursday, September 04, 2008

Review - Village Green

OK, so this review is a little different. Instead of reviewing a particular piece of media (movie, book, play, etc), I'm actually commenting on an actual business, the "Village Green" theatre. They had their "grand opening party" last weekend which I attended. Being a lover of theatre, I figured I may as well give my thoughts on this new venue.

On driving up, my first thought was "location" and "presence." The theatre is tucked back into a non-descript building in the middle of a sort of strip mall. My "local theatre" is similarly placed in a strip mall, so that's not the thing that turned me off...what turned me off is the fact that it was difficult to tell that the theatre was there, that it was open, or that it was anything at all. The front of the building was dingy and drab with no windows or decorations of any kind other than a broken/unused pay phone and some ripped out piping/electrical fixtures. A small sign (probably a 4x6) hung way up at the top but wasn't something that stands out to people on the street or even necessarily in the parking lot. If I hadn't known this was their "grand opening", I would have thought this was a closed/abandoned shop. Even if I had an inkling that it could possibly be open, I would have had no idea what it was about. Furthermore, there was no indication that any kind of party/opening was going on. No signage/decorations/etc.

Walking through the grey-green door, my family and I proceeded down a darkened narrow hallway. About halfway down the hall there was some lattice work on the left side where we could see through to the stage/theater and see a couple of performers and a small audience. Evaluating this later a thought came to do they expect to sell and/or collect tickets for performances with this sort of an entrance. There is no lobby or foyer for purchasing tickets or mingling before performances. Looking around the rest of the building, there wasn't any sort of "ticket office" anywhere...the only "point of sale" was at the refreshment counter. That's definitely something that will need to be remedied before the first show.

We wound around the corner and sat down to watch the "Reader's Theatre" performance. There wasn't anything separating the "theatre" itself from the rest of the building which is related to the ticket sale problem...there is no place to take tickets and no way to mitigate traffic flow to/from the seating area. Furthermore, you could theoretically watch the performance from "outside" the theatre at the snack bar or by the restrooms. The chairs weren't attached to the floor in standard theatre style and so as we sat down, there was a little noisy scraping as the chairs slid across the wooden floor. The chairs themselves were comfortable and lightly padded which was nice, but it will be distracting to hear chairs scrape as patrons move to/from a restroom/snack break during a performance. They also didn't have any indication of assigned seating, so perhaps it's just going to be 'general admission.' Considering there were fewer than 100 seats, general admission wouldn't be bad as there "isn't a bad seat in the house." The seating arrangement only allowed for a single aisle down the center which created traffic jams at the end of a performance, but again since the capacity isn't large, the issue isn't huge.

The stage itself was simply an extension of the floor on which the chairs were arranged, which provided a very intimate setting for the performance. It also meant that the actors didn't wear or need any sort of microphone amplification. (However, there were moments where they talked so quietly that I'm certain the back row would NOT have heard what they said). The performance area was fairly small and reminded me of the stage area in the "Little Theater" at my high school. Still, it would be large enough to accomodate small casts and settings. The performers were reading from a play set in a single room and even though they were performing without blocking or a formal set, it was evident that the area would work well for what they were trying to do. I tried to envision other similarly staged plays (such as Arsenic & Old Lace or See How They Run) and I think they would fit well in such a setting. Difficulties will arise if they try to put something on that requires multiple locations involving numerous set changes, but for single-setting plays, they should be fine.

After the reading theatre group finished (taking us right up to the climax of the play and inches from the final wrap up...then saying "come see how the play ends"), we made a beeline out of our seats to check out the rest of the theatre (much to the chagrin of the improv troupe getting up to perform next). As I walked off the hardwood, I got my first glimpse of the rest of the building. A semi-ornate wrap around bar served as a refreshment stand backed by a line of shelves and an old fashioned cash register. Across from the concessions stand they had what reminded me of a patio restaurant or a setup for a small wedding ceremony...there were a couple of rows (sometimes circled up a little bit as around tables) of chairs angled around a small hardwood stage under a sort of lattice awning. The stage could maybe house 2-4 people standing or sitting...perhaps for a poetry reading, or standup comedy, or a little jazz music, or a small discussion panel. I didn't see much use for the stage and very small grouping of chairs other than perhaps as a group participation presentation or a very intimate concert while sipping something from the bar a couple of feet away.

At the very back of the building was an amazing picturesque view. Nearly the entire back wall was glass and exposed a redwood wraparound deck on the back of the building, beyond which a small pond rippled in a summer breeze and a few groups of ducks swam along. Add the right lighting and a little soft lobby music and that deck is an amazing setting for guests to mingle during intermissions. Sadly it didn't look like there was any lighting at all, so that's something that will need to be remedied. They'll also likely need to look at some sort of citronella or other insect repelling techniques to keep the mosquitos away from guests during evening shows.

Turning back to the heart of the building, I wound around the concession bar to find a doorway tucked away. It boasted a separated sound/manager booth at the back of the room, then probably 2 dozen rows of folding chairs (with 8-10 chairs per in other words, supporting nearly the same audience capacity as the main stage. However, the room itself felt very compact. It reminded me of some very small classrooms or conference rooms. Instead of a stage at the front, it had a movie screen pulled down and halfway through the room a small projector sat on a stand.

Turning back to rejoin the crowd, I made a pit stop in the bathroom, which left me with one more shocking discovery. Beyond the fact that it felt dingy, I saw some concern in that there were no 'privacy dividers' between the two urinals. Even worse, one of the urinals was jutted right up against the sink, again with no privacy divider. So in other words, when there's a crowd at the bathroom and every spot is used, there will be a person peeing just inches away from the sink with nothing between the two men. Just a little awkward and potentially unsanitary. Yikes.

So, after all this, you may be wondering why I even bothered writing a review. Or maybe you figure that this is exactly the reason to write a totally rag on something. Honestly, I feel bad being so 'down' on this theatre. I actually had gone to the party with an open mind and great optimism for a new theatre in the area. I'm not a theatre manager or a business manager. However, I have been to many theatres large and small, so as a patron, I feel at least somewhat qualified to observe some obvious flaws.

My sincere hope is that the Village Green will quickly and efficiently realize their mistakes and take strides to remedy them. My feeling is that for some reason, they were 'married' to the opening date of Labor Day weekend and as a result, they opened their doors to the public without truly being ready (one of the partners actually admitted in a conversation that there were some permits and inspections that they only got at 'the midnight hour' and they were worried they might not have in time). One thing I've seen in business of any kind...if it's not ready, don't give it to the public. The customers will be understanding and will actually thank you for waiting and giving them a product of quality rather than rushing something out and making them suffer through it. They won't wait forever, but they'll wait a reasonable time. On the other hand, if you do rush it out and the customers suffer, they won't be as quick to forgive, especially if you don't quickly deliver.

The Village Green will be running their first show starting in mid-October (which again makes me wonder why they rushed the 'opening'). I may or may not check it out...I'm already planning on Jekyll & Hyde in October.

My personal feeling is that the Village Green needs to get some good plays in if they want to have any hope for survival. Even then, I believe that they need to make some significant structural changes to the actual physical layout of the building and to engage in some serious marketing efforts. If that doesn't happen, I give them a year, tops. Which truly and honestly makes me sad.

My rating(s):
Potential - 4 stars
Actual - 1 star

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