Local cultural leaders brainstorm future uses for Robinson Grand

Jill Rafter, left, director of the Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library, explains how library events would benefit from a renovated Robinson Grand Theater. Clockwise, from left: Rafter, Richard Herndon, Jason Young, Phil Wyatt, Anthony Bellotte, Tyler Terango, Phyllis Moore and Paul Siemborsky with consultant Westlake Reed Leskosky. Staff photo by Jim Davis

Jill Rafter, left, director of the Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library, explains how library events would benefit from a renovated Robinson Grand Theater. Clockwise, from left: Rafter, Richard Herndon, Jason Young, Phil Wyatt, Anthony Bellotte, Tyler Terango, Phyllis Moore and Paul Siemborsky with consultant Westlake Reed Leskosky. Staff photo by Jim Davis

The Exponent Telegram · Wednesday, June 25 2014 by Jim Davis, Staff Writer

CLARKSBURG — A concert venue. A place for the performing arts. A gathering spot for authors.

Those were among the uses that members of area cultural organizations suggested Tuesday for a renovated Robinson Grand Theater. “I want to see this as a multipurpose facility,” said Phil Wyatt, with the Clarksburg-Harrison Cultural Foundation.

Two meetings in the theater’s auditorium were organized by Clarksburg officials and WYK Associates. The city recently bought the West Pike Street theater and hired WYK Associates to design the renovations to the facility. Paul Siemborski, with Westlake Reed Leskosky, moderated the meetings. The Cleveland firm, which specializes in theater planning, is a consultant for WYK Associates. Representatives of the cultural organizations discussed how they would use a remodeled Robinson Grand and proposed design modifications to suit their needs.

Jason Young, with Notre Dame High School, and Michelle Palmer, with St. Mary’s Grade School, said the two Clarksburg schools’ performing arts groups would draw crowds to the former theater. The groups currently stage their performances in the schools’ gymnasium, said Palmer, the enrollment director and artist in residence at St. Mary’s. “We pack our shows, but we don’t have anywhere to go,” Palmer said. “Money is no issue. Once you get it up and running, we want to be first.”

Young is also affiliated with Vintage Theater, a new theater company that puts on four shows a year at the Uptown Event Center. The company also has various traveling theater troupes, Young said. “In a perfect world, we would like to produce a summer stock” at the theater, Young added. The theater productions would require adequate rigging and lighting and ample dressing rooms, Young and Palmer said.

Richard Herndon, with Shinnston Community Band, said the 70-musician concert orchestra calls Shinnston home, but performs throughout the region. “We’re always looking for a venue for performances,” Herndon said. “This is a lovely stage. We would come here to perform, definitely.” Larger backstage doors would be needed, as some musical instruments such as timpani won’t fit through the existing doors, Herndon said.

Phyllis Moore, with West Virginia Writers Inc., said the theater would provide a good setting for the organization’s summer conference. The annual conference, which includes writers’ workshops and an awards banquet, is held at Cedar Lakes Conference Center, Moore said. West Virginia Writers has a network of authors and poets who need a place to write and share ideas, Moore said. “It would be wonderful to have a writers’ capital” in the Clarksburg area, she added.

Tyler Terango, with the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival, said he could see several events taking place at the theater during the festival. Those include an authors’ forum, an Italian film festival and Christmas in Italy, Terango said. “On festival weekend, we’d love to bring in a bigger-name Italian performer, but we need an indoor venue,” Terango said.

Jill Rafter, director of the Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library, said the theater would provide ample space for events. Waldomore, a part of the library, has limited space on the first floor, Rafter said.

There was also discussion on who would run the theater once it is renovated. The city doesn’t want to manage the facility, City Manager Martin Howe said. Howe said he envisions the creation of a foundation that would be eligible for grants and tax credits. A management company, meanwhile, would be responsible for the day-to-day operations, he added. Following the meetings, Howe said the arts community is an asset that city wants to tap. “The more input we can seek out … the more successful this project will be,” Howe said.

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