Earlier this month, Charles Scavullo, the executive director of the Imperial Theatre, arrived early to wrap up loose ends after an Ed Turner and Number 9 concert and to prep for the band’s second performance that evening.
There had been heavy rain overnight, and the storms were making a morning encore. Walking into the theater, Scavullo noticed a small but steady stream of water winding its way toward the stage. At the lip of the orchestra pit, the water spread into a fair-sized cascade. That cascade, it turned out, was feeding a pretty large lake.
“It was a cool effect,” Scavullo said with a small shrug. “I just wished it was happening somewhere else.”
Scavullo can’t let a little lake – which he successfully sumped into submission by showtime that evening – bring him down. Emergencies, both minor and major, come with the territory when you are charged with running a theater that’s almost 100 years old.
Still, Scavullo would like to see some of the potential problems fixed before they become significant.
The Imperial Theatre is in the midst of a capital campaign. Its goal – to raise the $250,000 required to receive the $1 million allocated to the theater in the special purpose local option sales tax. Scavullo feels confident the theater will raise the funds required – its raised close to $50,000 so far – but he also understands it is only the beginning.
Everywhere Scavullo looks, there are improvements to be made. The lobby and concession areas, which bottleneck during busy intermissions, need to be opened and made wheelchair-accessible. Restroom facilities need to be expanded. Dressing rooms require remodeling.
Some of the improvements are obvious. Others deal more with infrastructure and remain invisible to the untrained eye.
The projects small, such as finding the source of the recent river, and large, like building a four-story dressing room addition off the back of the building, total $10 million to $12 million. Some projects Scavullo doesn’t expect to see completed until long after he has retired; others are of more immediate concern.
All, according to Scavullo, are required if the Imperial is to remain a vital entertainment venue.
“You do have to put a spin on certain things,” he said. “Upgrading the electrical system, for instance, isn’t that sexy. Nobody knows what a fire curtain is, or even sees it unless there’s a fire, but we need a new one. They are required.”
The secret, Scavullo said, is appealing to people’s better nature in very emotional ways.
As an example, he points to the less-than-substantial-looking fire escapes that flank the theater. He said merely pointing out what he believes might be original equipment isn’t enough. Pointing out that the theater plays host to almost 20,000 children a year – about half of the venue’s annual audience – puts it into perspective for a lot of people.
Barbara Feldman, the executive director of Storyland Theatre, said the group considers the Imperial home.
“This is our eighth season at the Imperial,” she said. “This is the place we’ve wanted to be from the moment we got here. … It’s also home, the primary theater, for so many of Augusta’s arts groups. It’s important to remember that.”
Scavullo said the theater’s status as an iconic Augusta landmark helps as well. He said the community has a real connection to the theater, that baby boomers talk about movies they have seen and dates in the dark balcony. Younger patrons, he said, talk about their introduction to the fine and performing arts.
Everyone has a story. Lots of people want to help.
One such entity is the Columbia County Ballet. Scavullo said the dance company performs in support of a cause every year. This year, revenue from the Oct. 13 production of Peter Pan will go toward the Imperial’s capital campaign.
“As old and challenged as (the Imperial) is, it has stood the test of time,” said Ron Jones, the artistic director of Columbia County Ballet. “It may, in the scheme of things, be a small contribution. Still, it gives us a chance to help and it gives our young dancers some sense of perspective, of being part of a larger history and community.”
The effort is appreciated.
“When Ron and Kathleen Jones approached me, you really could have knocked me over with a feather,” Scavullo said.
As fundraising continues, he said the Imperial is not in a state of stasis.
“We can’t afford to wait around,” he said.
In the past year, the theater has invested in new lights, rigging and a light board. Investment, Scavullo said, means finding the balance between the needs of the performers and the audiences.
He said the theater is also producing a video with endorsements from Debi Ballas, the executive director of The Augusta Players; Feldman of Storyland Theatre; Deanna Brown, who gave Christmas gifts with her father, James Brown, in the theater lobby; and local musicians Tony Howard and Johnny Hensley. He said the finished product will be screened as a complete project and cut into 30-second public service announcements.
“It goes back to those things people find important,” he said. “It goes back to the memories.”
Tickets for the Peter Pan Imperial benefit are available at imperialtheatre.com. Learn more about the capital campaign at imperialtheatre.com/support.htm or call Executive Director Charles Scavullo at (706) 722-8293.