Chapin Theatre Company to premiere first show in new space after completing renovations

Posted 3/8/23

A local theater organization finally has a place to call home.

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Chapin Theatre Company to premiere first show in new space after completing renovations


A local theater organization finally has a place to call home.

On March 16, the Chapin Theatre Company will open its first show at its newly finished space at 830 Columbia Ave.

“It's great not to be a nomad,” said Jim DeFelice, president and managing director for the company. “We've been basically without a home since our very beginning.”

The theater was originally based in a high school auditorium as a program of the Irmo-Chapin Recreation Commission. Moving out in 2006, the theater became an independent nonprofit and performed at Crooked Creek Park for the four years until the building they used was shut down by Lexington-Richland School District 5.

In 2010, the company began putting on shows at the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College, where it performed three to four shows a year. The venue was farther from the company’s client base and led to the theater going from about 150 to about 100 members.

The company found a more local option in the form of an old firehouse being rented by the American Legion, which it sublet until finding its new home.

DeFelice said the group found its new home in April 2022, purchasing it for about $600,000.

The property houses three buildings, the building used for productions which used to be a horse medicine manufacturer. The other buildings on the property are named after the property’s previous owners, with Jim’s Prop ‘N’ Shop and Julia's House (home to the company’s costume inventory) paying tribute to Jim and Julia Haack.

The house also has room for company meetings and a rehearsal space.

Linda Durant, the company’s vice president, said the rehearsal space will allow the company to rehearse a forthcoming show while another one is happening in the other building, a luxury the company didn’t have before.

She added that many of the costumes stored in the house are handmade or donated.

DeFelice said the company’s renovation of its new headquarters began in August and cost about $200,000. The process included tearing down walls and adding a stage and bathrooms, along with painting, plumbing and electrical work.

“I've been doing theater for 35 years,” he said, “and have directed a lot of shows, and have worked probably in every theater in Columbia, including Trustus, Town and Workshop. So you get a sense of what works and what doesn't work.”

DeFelice shared that the theater is receiving financial help with the move and renovations from the S.C. Arts Commission along with accommodations tax funds from Lexington County.

As with the company’s regular operations, other funding for the effort came from membership fees and other donations, which DeFelice said can range from $125 to $2,000.

DeFelice said having the new space allows for a lot of flexibility, particularly when it comes to being fully in control of their schedule.

The organization is fully run by volunteers, with DeFelice mentioning that it takes hundreds to keep the theater functioning. When it comes to the directors, teachers and set personnel, they may receive a small stipend for their help.

“I think everybody needs culture. And I think theater adds that,” Durant said. “It gives you an excuse to kind of step out of yourself and watch somebody else's problems and laugh because it’s on stage. [You] see talented people. I think theater just answers a lot of questions and it's good for the community.”

The theater’s first production in its new home is “Death By Design,” and it runs from March 16 to April 2.

Set in an English country manor in 1932, the company calls it “a hilarious, delightful, and mysterious mash-up of two of the greatest English writers of all time — Agatha Christie and Noël Coward. Edward Bennett, a playwright, and his wife, Sorel, an actress, flee London and head to Cookham after a disastrous opening night.”


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