Originally created 09/24/01

Aiken playhouse offices will open



AIKEN - Aiken's $6 million playhouse is a year away from its first production, but the building it's in will become partially operational next month.

Washington Government, which donated $400,000 toward constructing the playhouse at Newberry Street, will open its corporate offices in the 39,000-square-foot brick building in October.

The 20,000 square feet of office space will be home to 35 administrators formerly located at government facilities throughout the country. Washington Government was previously located in Pittsburgh.

The city of Aiken owns the building and has signed Washington Government to a 10-year lease.

Washington Government is a branch of Washington Group International Inc., the company charged with overseeing Savannah River Site. In addition to running the Department of Energy installation in Aiken, Washington Government has contracts with other federal organizations. Washington Group is based out of Boise, Idaho.

The theater portion has been named the Washington Group For the Performing Arts.

"It will allow us to work more effectively together and have a strong presence in the Aiken Community," said Stephen Muller, an internal consultant with Washington Government. "It's just a real great opportunity to be in a nice location."

Mr. Muller said Washington Government's offices will be equipped with high-tech video conferencing equipment that will allow the company to communicate with its offices nationwide.

Meanwhile, city officials say the playhouse will be open this time next year - the Aiken Community Playhouse's 50th anniversary. The group's first show is scheduled for Sept. 13.

"One thing you can put money on is that it will be a musical," said Angie Fitzgerald, the president of the Aiken Community Playhouse's board of directors.

"We want to take full advantage of everything this building will give us."

The new theater can seat 300 people, as opposed to the 170-seat auditorium the Aiken Community Playhouse currently uses. The playhouse will be equipped with a rehearsal studio, costume and stage-building shops, dressing room shops and a shower.

"Moving into a facility like this really calls for a yearlong celebration," Ms. Fitzgerald said. "This is one terrific anniversary present for ourselves and the community."

Ms. Fitzgerald said the new theater will allow the Aiken Community Playhouse to do more elaborate productions.

"We do great work in our little space, but we're limited," Ms. Fitzgerald said.

To get ready for next year, the Aiken Community Playhouse has been busy raising money.

At Malia's restaurant on Laurens Street on Wednesday night, actors from the Aiken Community Playhouse's favorite shows worked for tips that went to the playhouse's building campaign. Organizers said about 150 people had paid the $35 for tickets to the event.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.