2015-11-27 / Front Page

Final curtain closes for Arundel Barn Playhouse

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


The Arundel Barn Playhouse, located at 55 Old Post Road, has closed its doors after 17 years and 94 shows. Owner Adrienne Grant, 79, announced last week she plans to sell the property to newly-formed Vinegar Hill LLC, owned by Kennebunkport developer Tim Harrington, which will discontinue theatrical productions and convert the property into a concert venue. (Duke Harrington photo) The Arundel Barn Playhouse, located at 55 Old Post Road, has closed its doors after 17 years and 94 shows. Owner Adrienne Grant, 79, announced last week she plans to sell the property to newly-formed Vinegar Hill LLC, owned by Kennebunkport developer Tim Harrington, which will discontinue theatrical productions and convert the property into a concert venue. (Duke Harrington photo) ARUNDEL — After 18 years and 94 productions, the final curtain has fallen at the Arundel Barn Playhouse.

Owner Adrienne Grant announced last week she intends to sell the property, located at 55 Old Post Road, to the newly-formed development group Vinegar Hill LLC. The sale is expected to close in December and the new owners have said they will convert the space into a concert hall, shifting the site’s focus from musical theater to musical performance.

“We are planning to showcase local, regional and national music acts,” Vinegar Hill partner Tim Harrington said in a prepared release. “Although a shift in focus is in store, we want to maintain a strong connection to the original vision of Adrienne Grant. Her pioneering work established high artistic standards and, in the process, put Arundel on the map.”


Adrienne Grant, owner of the Arundel Barn Playhouse, shows off the interior of the professional theater she converted from an old barn, in this photo from playhouse’s web site. (Courtesy photo) Adrienne Grant, owner of the Arundel Barn Playhouse, shows off the interior of the professional theater she converted from an old barn, in this photo from playhouse’s web site. (Courtesy photo) Grant, a former dancer and choreographer, grew up in Boston and moved on to community theater and later professional work on Long Island in New York. Over the years she branched out from her initial pursuits to directing, writing and producing.

“I’ve done just about all of the jobs there are to do in the theater,” she said Saturday.

But her dream, Grant said, was always to run a playhouse of her own. That dream became reality after Grant began summering in the Kennebunks in 1992. After searching the area for just the right space, she settled in 1997 on the old Smith Family farm, located just off Route 1 in Arundel. The last members of the Smith family, sisters Marcia and Angelia, had died a decade earlier and the barn was, Grant admits, “in falling-down condition.” Still, in the best tradition of the Judy Garland/ Mickey Rooney motif of “Let’s- put-on-a-show!” Grant could see potential in the space to not only stage theatrical productions, but to revive the golden age of professional summer stock theater in Maine while also nurturing the fading glory of “barn theater.”


Arundel Barn Playhouse owner Adrienne Grant announced last week she plans to sell the property to newly-formed Vinegar Hill LLC, owned by Kennebunkport developer Tim Harrington, who will convert the property into a concert hall. (Duke Harrington photo) Arundel Barn Playhouse owner Adrienne Grant announced last week she plans to sell the property to newly-formed Vinegar Hill LLC, owned by Kennebunkport developer Tim Harrington, who will convert the property into a concert hall. (Duke Harrington photo) “Barn theaters are a tradition in New England and there are only a few of them still left,” she said. “That’s why I wanted a barn, as opposed to an old theater, or a factory space, or whatever.

“In New England in the summertime, it’s quite magical,” Grant said. “When you first enter the barn, of course it’s all wood, three stories high and huge, and the wood creates an extraordinarily warm atmosphere. It takes you back to another time and creates a magical experience. People enter the barn and they just smile.”

After making renovations during the winter of 1997, the Arundel Barn Playhouse opened in June 1998 with “Forever Plaid.”

Over the years, nearly 500 young actors graced the Arundel Barn stage, not to mention hundreds of lighting technicians, set designers and other backstage workers vital to the successful staging of a quality show.

“In the short term, I think our legacy will be that we lived up to our original plan, to present the best performances we could at the best price that we could, in an environment that Mainers would be proud of that extended New England hospitality,” Grant said. “But in the long run, I think the legacy will be all of the artists, not just the actors, but everyone involved who perfected their craft in this space.”

Among the 54 people the playhouse employed from all over the country each year, many went on to work in national touring shows or to careers as theater professors, while some made it all the way to Broadway and its top prize, the Tony Award. Among the must successful Arundel alumni are producer Ken Davenport, who staged the 2013 Best Musical “Kinky Boots,” and John Lloyd Young, named Best Actor in 2007 for his performance in “Jersey Boys.”

One more season would have given the Arundel Barn Playhouse an even 100 shows to its credit, but Grant says she was more motivated to last at least 20 years. Still, as age crept up on her, Grant, 79, says she began to find the work of being both producer and artistic director wearing her down.

“For 18 years I’ve done both of those jobs, first because I could, and then because we could not afford to hire someone,” she said. “Either one of those jobs, by itself, can be a really heavy load. It was just becoming too much for me.”

Grant says she let word circulate within the theater community for the past five years that she was willing to sell. Unfortunately, no one came forward whom Grant felt held the requisite resume to maintain the standards she had set over the years. That’s when Harrington and his partner, Debbie Lennon, came along.

“It was just time to move on,” Grant said. “I would have preferred to have sold it as a theater, but that was not possible.”

Harrington, head of Atlantic Holdings LLC and the Kennebunkport Resort Collection, which owns nine hotels and seven restaurants, including the Tides Beach Club, the Kennebunkport Inn, the Hidden Pond resort, and David’s KPT, also owns the Five Points Shopping Center in Biddeford. He is currently working on a $50 million proposal to redevelopment Biddeford’s old Lincoln Mill into a hotel and apartment complex.

Harrington could not be reached for comment, but his spokesman, Mark Robinson of Robinson Public Relations and Outreach, said Friday that Vinegar Hill is set up to be a “completely different” enterprise from Harrington’s other endeavors, with little expected crossover.

The decision to convert the Arundel Barn Playhouse, deemed a “fabulous community asset,” was based on Harrington and Lennon’s greater experience booking music acts for their other businesses, Robinson said.

“It’s a great physical space, and this will remain a fantastic, first-class entertainment venue for the audience,” Harrington said via Robinson. “But another important goal is for top-notch artists to have a very memorable and positive experience performing here in Arundel.”

Robinson said Vinegar Hill plans to recruit an advisory board from community leaders, to help the venue reach out to local schools and organizations, and to guide the selection of featured performers. It also expects to open up the barn space to community groups and nonprofits for fundraising and educational events.

Neither Robinson nor Grant would disclose a selling price. However, Grant, who acknowledged the playhouse finished in the red for 14 or its 18 seasons, said, “I’m not making any money,” given the dollars she’s dumped into maintenance and operations over the years, in addition to her initial purchase and renovation costs.

“Despite that, there was really fantastic support from the community, including from our amazing local sponsors, our subscribers and our ushers, some of who had been here from the very beginning,” Grant said. “This could not have existed without them and they all played a part in helping to being the arts to Arundel.”

Grant said she has no definite plans for retirement.

“I’m not really a rest-and-relaxation kind of a person, but neither am I into 15-hour days any longer,” she said, noting that she remains a summer resident of Kennebunk and will always be in search of a good show to attend.

As for her own theater, “All I can say is that it was a labor of love and, right now, I believe it was worth all the effort,” she says.

According to Robinson, following renovations, the first concerts in the playhouse’s new era should take the stage in June 2016.

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