Keeping the Greenwich Odeum Alive

Through renovation after renovation this Rhode Island staple stands strong

So Rhode Island Magazine ·

The Greenwich Odeum is back, ladies and gentlemen, and with more than just a new coat of paint. After a three-month closure, the Odeum is reopening with a complete face-lift. The renovations are thanks to new president Dan Speca, who is slated to remain in the position through next year. In his short term, the Odeum has been awarded $600,000 in grants from the Rhode Island State Council of the Arts and The Champlin Foundations, which have funded these latest renovations.

With national acts selling out this small space, the Odeum has begun to thrive. These big artists are coming because of its small size. “It’s stripped down: the artist and a guitar, them and the band,” Dan says. “It’s [the artist] talking about themselves, talking about their career.” This intimate venue is seeing big names like “American Pie” singer Don McLean on December 2, and the New Year will bring in acts like Sha Na Na (February 18) and David Cassidy (March 3). Colin Hay recently played the theatre, which sold out, as did former American Idol Taylor Hicks. “For the patron it’s fantastic. Every seat is a good seat,” Dan says.

The Odeum’s doors closed this past June for the three-month renovation project. Dan considers this phase one of a multi-phased project. He also goes on to comment on how these renovations only seek to make the Odeum better, not to replace its rich history. “I really want to make sure we balance progress with preservation,” he says. “As much as the building is 90 years old, there are certain things we want to maintain.” In fact, during the renovations there were artifacts from the theatre’s history unearthed that will be going on display in the lobby.

A Tale of Opening and Closing
The theatre itself has had a long history with closing and reopening. The Odeum originally opened in 1926 as a vaudeville theatre that also featured movies. The theatre functioned well for many years, but closed in 1990 due to competing multi-screen cinemas. Though the theatre reopened in 1994, the aftermath of the 2003 Station nightclub fire resulted in stricter fire code rules and regulations. Unable to manage the costs to update the theatre, it once again closed.

For nearly half a decade the beautiful Main Street theatre remained dormant. With no one to occupy it and no means of bringing it up to code, the theatre found itself in limbo. What was to become of the Greenwich Odeum? Luckily, the theatre was given a generous grant from The Champlin Foundations, which led to it going into renovations for a three-year-period. On January 26, 2013, the Odeum opened once again. This round of renovations helped bring about new flame retardant seats, but it soon became apparent that more work needed to be done to get the theatre updated to meet fire codes, become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design and allow for more room in the front of house.

The New(er) Renovations
The Odeum looks beautiful after the most recent renovations. This phase included completing the majority of the sprinkler work in order to continue moving towards updated fire regulations. Though still working on getting up to fire code, all guidelines for shows are followed, including having a fire detail on hand when there will be more than 300 patrons in the theatre.

Phase one also saw a complete remodel of the front of house. Now when you enter the Odeum you are met with crisp, clean walls with monitors on them that project current and upcoming acts. If you enter and go to the left you will find yourself at the new refreshment area. Going to the right leads to the box office, which is still original to when the theatre first opened. It’s also where the theatre’s one part-time employee works. The rest of the theatre is still completely maintained by volunteers.

The complete upheaval on the front of house during renovations meant that the auditorium had to get just a little smaller, without sacrificing seat capacity; even with a slightly smaller auditorium, the Odeum still seats 410 people. The exact number it did in 1926.

Originally there were staircases that led to the second floor of the Odeum that were on the outside of the building. With the new renovations the outside access to the second floor has been closed off and there are now the beginnings of the elevator and staircase that will lead to the second floor on the inside of the theatre. The hope is that phase two of renovations will allow for the completion of a second floor that will boast a lounge area, a bar, more bathrooms and seating. The theatre plans to get to an impressive, yet still intimate, 500 seats before it is all said and done.

Though phase two will not be completed for a few years, it’s wonderful to think of the things that are ahead for the Odeum. Dan says that he is confident that the theatre’s new grant applications will be accepted and funded. “It’s nice, we do have a finished project and granters can see we’ve done something with [the grant] money,” he says. “We’re a good donee; we take what you’re giving us and stretching it.”

Dan is optimistic and completely behind the growth of the theatre. When asked what the future holds for the Odeum and where he sees it growing he is quick to say, “I think renovations will be done, grant money willing, within five years. I see five phases to achieve in a year, year-and-a-half each. We’re not looking to compete with the PPACs of the world, but this theatre offers a lot of really unique qualities.”

With these renovations and the passion of the volunteers behind the Greenwich Odeum, it remains a unique venue, and a unique part of the state. If Dan Speca could tell the community one thing about the theatre it’s, “We’re here. We’re bringing in great acts. You don’t want to miss out.”

East Greenwich Odeum
59 Main Street, East Greenwich.


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