Olney Theatre Center Begins Renovations, Oldest Stage Gets A New Name

A dedication ceremony will be held once construction is complete in the fall.

By: Feb. 28, 2024
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Olney Theatre Center, an official state theatre of Maryland, has begun construction on the overhaul of its 1938 Original Theatre and announced that upon completion, the venue will be renamed the Bernard Family Theatre, in recognition of a $1 million gift from philanthropist Cathy Bernard. A dedication ceremony will be held once construction is complete in the fall.

“The beginning of construction marks an important point in our campaign,” said Olney Theatre's Executive Director, Debbie Ellinghaus, “We have taken the next steps in rehabilitating and transforming a treasured centerpiece of our campus that carries a storied history of some of the industry's most celebrated artists. We are excited about transforming the Original Theatre into a flexible performance space that better meets the needs of our community for shows, events, and gatherings of all kinds. After 86 years, the Original Theatre desperately needs a makeover. We're also thrilled to build a much-needed Education Center and modernized production facilities in our Makers' Center. Best of all, thanks to leadership gifts, aid from the State of Maryland, and other institutional partners, we've raised over 85% of the funds needed to complete the project. This is an extraordinary testament to the value that Olney Theatre brings to our region. With only 15% left to raise, we're so close to the finish line and look forward to getting there soon with the help of our community.”

“The renovated Bernard Family Theatre will be a fully flexible performance space, as suited for cutting-edge, immersive performances as for lectures, meetings, concerts, and banquets,” says Artistic Director Jason Loewith, “Our aspiration for this rejuvenated space is to make it a worthy inheritor of the original theatre that saw legends like Helen Hayes, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Olivia de Havilland, Tony Randall, Bob Fosse, and Sir Ian McKellan tread its boards. We want to make sure that this legacy is accessible, not just to the professional artists we work with regularly, but to community groups, local ensembles, and our neighbors throughout the region.” 

Earlier phases of Staging The Future have featured the renovation of the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab's lobby and backstage areas, the creation of a permanent outdoor performance space on the Root Family Stage at Omi's Pavilion, as well as expanded parking facilities for the regional theatre. Linda Rosenzweig, the Chair of Olney Theatre's Board of Directors, said, “It is incredibly exciting to reach this milestone. The renovation of the 1938 Original Theatre is an important component of our Staging the Future campaign. We appreciate the extraordinary support for the campaign and hope to continue to build a strong financial foundation as we pursue our mission of making art accessible to all communities. To that end, I am proud to be able to announce that we have ensured continuity in our leadership with the contract renewals of our Artistic Director Jason Loewith and Executive Director Debbie Ellinghaus, whose efforts have made Olney Theatre a leader in the region and the nation.”

All phases of construction have been overseen by the award-winning architecture firm EskewDumezRipple with general contracting by the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company.

Design renderings are available along with detailed plans for each space at stagingthefuture.or