Saturday, 6 March 2010

Brewster’s Cape Rep gets face-lift

[Like Budleigh Salterton, our sister-town of Brewster has its own theater, pictured here...

Hang on a sec! I typed in the American word out of deference, then saw to my astonishment that the Cape Rep Theatre sign follows the English spelling. I wonder why. Perhaps someone over there can tell me.

Anyway does it really matter? The main thing is that the Brewster community knows how to look after its old buildings and doesn't just knock them down because they're derelict, or because a developer/realtor could squeeze in half a dozen five-bedroom executive dwellings with double garages and teeny gardens.]

Photo credit: The 200-year-old Cape Rep building along Old King’s Highway in Brewster by Barry Donohue

There’s a sign along Route 6A in Brewster announcing the 25th anniversary of Cape Rep Theatre. You can’t miss it. Set back a few feet from that sign, however, are an 18th century house and barn that aren’t half as pretty. At least not yet.

The 200-year-old abandoned wreck has greeted theatergoers since the theater company first occupied, and then transformed, the old Monomoy Sea Camps in 1997, an off-putting sign for the fine performances further down the driveway.

But the much-loved little theater, a hybrid between a full equity and an amateur theater company, is sprucing up its home base thanks to an intricate web of grants and donations, injecting a new spirit into the cultural life of Brewster. The antique house on 6A, between Linnell and Crosby roads, is getting its first face-lift since the 1890s.

The Cape Rep Theatre sits on public land, part of Nickerson State Park, and leases its seven acres from the state, explained project manager Rick Longley.

“The history of the renovations goes back to the original conditions of our lease,” he said. “We’re allowed to occupy our acreage, including all the existing structures, in exchange for their renovation.”

“While we don’t know who actually built this house, we do know that it was inherited by Frank Crosby, of the Brewster Crosbys, in the 1880s,” says Janine Perry, Cape Rep’s artistic director and unofficial historian.

“He and his wife, Sarah, renovated the house extensively in the late 19th century, adding a couple of wings and other details in the Victorian style and using the same builder who worked on the Crosby mansion.”

The Frank Crosby house contains many of the same architectural features as the mansion, minus the scale.

After their brief occupancy, the Crosbys sold the house to a developer who turned it over to Camp Monomoy in 1926. It was operated as a summer camp until 1983 when the state claimed the 45-acre parcel, stretching from Route 6A to Cape Cod Bay, by eminent domain. The buildings were abandoned.

The Cape Rep Theatre made a proposal to the state for the use of the Camp Monomoy buildings as a performing arts center. It was a bold move, and the proposal quickly passed through the state Legislature.

After the lease was signed, the outdoor amphitheater got a face-lift for summer productions and soon after that the old dining hall was renovated to be an indoor theater, thereby extending the season.

That was the easy part. Because the theater company was required to renovate all existing structures, including the old house, they began a long and tedious process of fund-raising and grant writing. Grants were received from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund and the Community Preservation Act grant program.

“Not only does the town have the opportunity to support a fine local performing arts center, but it also has gained the preservation of a historic structure of great significance,” said Paul Hush, chairman of Brewster’s Community Preservation Commission.

Along with these two grants, and a third grant from the Mary Louise and Ruth Eddy Foundation in Brewster, as well as private donations, the company was able to break ground in March 2009.

“It’s been going really well … in fact in record time,” said Longley. “There were raccoons living here,” he said. “They left mounds of dung and debris everywhere. The place was a disaster.” The project has been on the fast track and is scheduled to be completed in time for the opening of the 2010 season in May.

“The renovations have provided a lot of jobs in a depressed economy,” said Longley, “and it’s all local labor, so it put a lot of people to work on the Lower Cape.”

The restoration of the house’s architectural features is of the finest workmanship. The first thing one sees when entering through a side door is a spacious community room with vaulted ceilings, a new fireplace and a lighting grid. The room can be used for poetry and play readings, book tours and other cultural events.

Perry summed it up. “We are Brewster’s only performing arts center and with this renovation, we will be able to supply our community with the cultural enrichment it deserves, now and well into the future.”

By Anne Garton
Reprinted with permission from The Cape Codder newspaper

For information about Cape Rep Theatre (or Theater) click on the link

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