The city of Helena has agreed to move forward with building a new concrete pad in Hill Park, to serve as an outdoor performance space.
At Monday’s Helena City Commission meeting, leaders approved about $19,000 for the project, from the Downtown Urban Renewal District’s tax increment financing funds.
The concrete pad will be 30 feet by 30 feet, with ADA accessibility and built-in electrical connections. City staff said it will make it easier to host concerts, plays and other events in the park without the risk of a temporary stage damaging the grass.
The Downtown TIF Advisory Board recommended the project as a response to COVID-19. Social distancing requirements have made it harder for many local organizations to hold live events in their regular locations.
One of the first organizations to use the stage will be Grandstreet Theatre. They are set to hold performances of their next play, “The Sound of Music,” in the park, from July 24 to Aug. 16.
“We’re very excited that the City Commission said yes and that we’re going to go forward with outdoor theater this summer in Helena,” said Kal Poole, Grandstreet’s managing director.
Poole was out taking a look at the space Tuesday morning, along with Rebecca Hartman, who will play Maria, and costume designer Claire Peterson.
This will be Grandstreet’s first time taking one of its main productions outside. Poole said they will build a temporary stage on the pad. At 30 feet, it will actually be somewhat larger than their usual stage.
“It’s going to be a different kind of theater, but we’re really excited to take it on,” said Poole.
If Grandstreet were working in their normal theater, Poole said they would only be able to fit 50 to 60 audience members because of social distancing – compared to 200 at a normal performance. He said that wouldn’t be enough to make the productions feasible. At the Hill Park stage, they estimate they can fit at least 150 people, and possibly more.
Theaters across the country have faced financial challenges because of COVID-19. Poole said they are lucky to be in a position to put on liver performances this summer.
“We’re dealing with some financial implications at the theater right now which are pretty frightening,” he said. “We’re hopeful that this is a big revenue generator; we’re hopeful that people want to venture out of their houses this summer and come sit on the lawn and see some theater.”
Hartman said this will be her first time performing outdoor theater, but she’s excited to start.
“I love the space, and this is the perfect show to do outside,” she said. “Singing about the hills in the hills – it’s perfect!”
Kristi Ponozzo, director of Helena Parks, Recreation and Open Lands, said electrical work should begin at the site later this week, and the rest of the work could start this week or early next week. She said they’re confident they can get the work done in time for Grandstreet to start “The Sound of Music.”