If all goes as planned, the next phase of the Lakeland Cultural Arts Center’s evolution will bolster its standing as the centerpiece of a Littleton community that is undergoing an infusion of development.
Since Peter Holloway joined Lakeland as executive director in the winter, the vision of Lakeland as an economic driver for the region has come into clearer focus with COVID-19 sparking the onset of a transformative renovation project powered by the Ed Fitts Charitable Foundation; one designed to create a better theatre experience, to put it lightly.
“Over its history, it’s constantly been evolving,” Holloway said of Lakeland. “... This is just the latest phase in its evolution.”
Slated to be completed possibly as early as winter of next year, the improved experience will eventually include adaptations both physical and ideological: a state-of-the-art projection screen that can be used to show films; lighting and sound upgrades; expanded seating; renovations to the smaller black box theatre; an increased number of events with more diverse offerings; a theatre more reflective of the culturally diverse community in which it resides; an amphitheater seating up to 1,500; annual festivals drawing big names; and yes, a modern lobby that will eliminate the marathon walk for men to the bathroom that has long been situated far behind backstage.
After Lakeland closed its doors in March due to coronavirus, with two shows in rehearsal, the theatre ultimately decided to pull the plug on the rest of 2020 and go ahead with construction.
Evolution inevitably means parting with certain pieces of the past, like the old dressing room and administrative building that was recently demolished to make way for a pathway to the rest of the Lakeland campus. The new dressing rooms and offices will go where the current dance studio is (backstage). Currently, the administrative branch of the theatre is being housed in the space that houses the black box theatre; eventually, that area (adjacent to the old high school cafeteria kitchen) will be converted into flex space.
Holloway, who joined Lakeland from the renowned StageOne children’s theatre in Louisville, Ky., insists that in with the new doesn’t have to mean out with the old, entirely.
“This place has been perpetually developing and evolving since it was a school,” he said. “There’s always been things changing in here. Like when they swapped out all the seats and originally opened up. They added this lounge on at some point. They added this black box.”
The spirit of the place will continue to live on where the most vivid memories are made: in the auditorium that Holloway recognizes is already a great place to see a show.
The goal is to keep the community feel of Lakeland, where volunteers of all ages hang lights, direct shows, perform, and invite their friends and families to see the shows, while also bringing modern amenities that Holloway hopes remakes Lakeland into a “mini-(Durham Performing Arts Center)” of sorts. It’s something you might expect in municipalities much larger than Littleton.
“First of all, it’s exciting that a small town has a resource like this theatre,” said Fitts Foundation consultant Stacy Woodhouse, who is working with Holloway on the project. “You can probably count on one hand on the whole East Coast - it might not even exist outside of Littleton - but towns of this size having a cultural arts theatre of this magnitude is just unheard of.
“It’s a huge asset to the town and to the region in itself. You couple that with having a world-class management talent like Peter here and it’s just something that doesn’t exist.”
To recap, “this magnitude” means an expanded 300-seat theatre, a black box theatre seating 50-60 and a new outdoor stage that can host a wide variety of performances for different-sized audiences.
“I don’t know if there’s another community theatre in the country that will have that resource available to them,” Holloway said. “Pretty damn cool.”