Playhouse plans for year-round performances with Walker Farm expansion

By Cynthia Prairie

The Weston Playhouse Theatre Company is planning to expand its theatrical offerings to year-round with a new cultural center at the 4.9 acre Walker Farm, just north of its Weston Green main stage. The company, which attracts audiences from throughout the northeast, currently stages shows from late spring to early fall, offering a variety of productions for all ages, including young school children.

A view from the rear of the Walker Farm property. The new theater and parking would be built in this space. Photos by Cynthia Prairie

A view from the rear of the Walker Farm property. The new theater and parking would be built in this space. Click any photo to launch gallery. Photos by Cynthia Prairie

In mid-August, after touring the site, the Weston Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Weston Planning Commission held a joint hearing to hear from the theater company’s architect, Jim Pulver, on redevelopment and construction plans. The theater company is seeking a conditional use permit from the ZBA while the Planning Commission was reviewing the site plan. If permits are given, the theater company anticipates that construction will begin in April 2015 to be completed in 13 months.

The Walker Farm property includes a home that faces Route 100 at the Chester Mountain Road, an 1860s dairy barn, two silos and a 1950s barn.  The acreage also abuts property already owned by the playhouse, at 703 Main St., that houses the costume shop and administrative offices. Plans include unifying the two properties with a common driveway, overflow parking and a mowed walking path. Abutting the farm to the north is the Maple Grove Cemetery.

Architect Jim Pulver shows the building plan. To the right is the site plan.

Architect Jim Pulver shows the building plan. To the right is the site plan.

According to Weston’s managing director Stuart Duke, an association formed to purchase the Walker Farm, then deeded the property to the playhouse for expansion. “The Walker family,” he added, “has been very supportive of the theater company.” The theater company is already using the 1950s barn for prop storage. In the future, it might use the Walker home for artist housing or offices. Duke added that the two silos are stable and will remain.

A new 2,900-square-foot “open plan” stage would be built behind the existing structures and be further masked from street view by a berm created in a large rolling field between 703 Main and the farm buildings. The new stage would accommodate up to 140 patrons and be surrounded by 69 parking spaces — three of them concrete and handicapped-designated. Fourteen more parking spaces would be created at 703 Main, connected to the new facility with the mowed walking path.  The new facilities would also include a lobby and rest rooms as well as dressing rooms, a green room, laundry, storage and workspace backstage. The entire building would have sprinklers, fed by a 26,000-gallon tank.

“The space is meant to afford maximum flexibility,” Duke said. “There’s almost infinite possibilities of what we can stage there.” Although there is no catering kitchen in the design, Duke said banquets are possible with catering trucks offloading at the new facility’s loading dock.

Artist renderings

Clockwise from top left, Pulver explains the views of the Walker Farm entering the new driveway from Main Street, of the driveway to the theater, the theater itself and the home with silo in the back from Route 100.

Vehicles would enter the new theater site at the current driveway to 703 Main, which would be widened and lengthened to curve behind the berm-field to the new facility.  Parking and walking paths around the new theater would be gravel and a mowed path would connect 703 Main to the new property. A concrete paved area would directly surround the building.

Pulver told town officials that the roof would be a standing seam metal roof made of Galvalume. The building, he added, would be clad in two types of natural wood siding, one portion stained in red, the other in a lighter color. The colors and other design elements, Pulver said, will break down the “large massing of the building.”

The 77-year-old nonprofit theater company owns other property in Weston including a  home with rehearsal space on Main Street. Here’s a short video about the playhouse and its Walker Farm plans.

The ZBA has adjourned to deliberative session; the Planning Commission will continue its hearing on Oct. 7.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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