The Levoy Theatre Story

In February 2008, Studio T+L was contacted by Levoy Theatre Preservation Society (LTPS) about renovating and reopening the Levoy Theatre in Millville, NJ. The theatre had been closed since the mid 1970s, and was in poor condition, but LTPS was enthusiastic about the project. They wanted to hear our thoughts and opinions on the condition of the theatre and what it would take to reopen it. On our first visit to the theatre we found the building was in worse condition than we thought. The stage was rotting, birds were nesting in the rafters, the roof was leaking, and there was water damage everywhere. There was almost nothing left of the beautiful original theatre.

levoy theatre before renovation

The Levoy Theatre before renovation. Ceiling and face of balcony (left) and proscenium (right)

Despite these problems, standing at the front of the house we noted that the theatre had a good feel to it. It felt intimate for a 1,500 seat house and we believed that bringing it back to life was possible. After some discussion about realistic goals, timeline, and budget for the project, Studio T+L agreed to join the LTPS in their effort to restore the Levoy Theatre to active use.

Opened on January 9, 1908, expanded in 1912 and again in 1927, The Levoy Theatre followed a familiar arc over the next century. The original fare of Vaudeville and silent movies gave way, in 1939, to movies alone as the theatre became a Warner Brothers house. In 1952 the theatre returned to local ownership and again became a house for music and theatre, although with declining attendance. By the 1970s the Levoy was a second run movie theatre in serious disrepair and was closed for safety reasons in 1974. In the mid-1980s several apartments were built on the second floor. In 1995 local interest in preserving nd restoring the theatre led to the creation of the Levoy Theatre Preservation Society. Over the next decade a variety of plans were made and abandoned until Studio T+L's involvment.

Our first task was to assemble the design team. Studio T+L helped LTPS interview several architects about their experience with theatres, historic renovations, and restoring derelict buildings. During the interviews we talked about the size of their staff, their approach to a project like this, budgeting and cost management, and a host of other issues.

We selected R2Architects of Voorhees, NJ, who put together a team to collaborate with us on a feasibility study which would look at the viability and cost of preserving the building and restoring it to a working theatre. While the design team was working on the feasibility of saving and restoring the building, LTPS was working on the feasibility of funding the construction and operating the venue. By the fall of 2008 we had our answer, and it was “Yes!” The building could be preserved, a modern theatre could be created inside, the work could be fully funded, and a business plan for the ongoing operation of the theatre was approved by the LTPS board!

In early 2009 the we began the redesign with Studio T+L providing theatre consulting and lighting design services in collaboration with R2Architect’s team. Some of the biggest, early decisions were:

  • Enlarge the stage by moving the proscenium downstage 12 feet
  • Enlarge the lobby, especially at the balcony level
  • Dig a basement below the stage for dressing rooms and access to a new orchestra pit

We knew the first two decisions would mean a smaller house but determined 650 to 750 seats would be appropriate for the size of the community and the performances that were envisioned. During all of this Studio T+L studied possible seating layouts, including continental, center aisle and two aisle options, and presented four layouts to LTPS and the design team for consideration. The favorite design provided a total of 690 seats, had a cross aisle in the orchestra with sloped seating in front of it and tiered seats behind, as well as a tiered balcony.

north wall led layout

Preliminary Seating Layouts for Orchestra and Balcony
(left to right) enter aisle, two parallel aisles, continental seating, two radial aisles and a cross aisle.  

Design work continued throughout 2009 and into 2010. During this period, we decided to dig a full basement, not just below the stage, to provide audience amenities, office space, storage, and electrical and mechanical rooms. R2Architects worked to adapt the look and feel of the original theatre to the size and configuration of the new theatre. They especially focused on the proscenium arch and the decorative elements of the proscenium wall and the ceiling, knowing those would have the biggest impact on the audience.

Studio T+L and LTPS had extensive discussions about the requirements of the various users (touring music and comedy acts, a local company called The Off-Broad Street Players, and other local groups) the likely skill set of the staff, and the cost of various theatre system options. These discussions led to Studio T+L designing and specifying, in addition to the seating:

  • A double-purchase counterweight rigging system with over 50 linesets
  • An integrated stage and house lighting system with over 300 dimmers and an initial inventory of 200 stage lights plus accessories
  • An electrically driven orchestra pit lift with access below the stage and three operating levels – orchestra pit, orchestra floor for supplementary seating, and stage level as a stage extension
  • A house curtain, valence, legs, borders, tabs, scrim and cyc 

Throughout the design phase Studio T+L provided memos and drawings to the architect and engineers to guide them through the process of creating a performing arts theatre. These included space planning guides for spaces such as dressing rooms, control booths, front of house, and loading docks, structural requirements for the stage rigging, and electrical requirements for the dimming system. We also reviewed all of the drawings at each milestone for conflicts with the requirements and operations of the theatre systems to ensure that the theatre would operate as intended.

Construction began in late 2010. Over the next year and a half, the roof was replaced, the theatre and lobbies were built, the façade was restored, and a marquee similar to the theatre’s circa 1920s marquee was installed. 

The renovated Levoy Theatre reopened on September 9, 2012 and has been a thriving, integral part of the community ever since. In its first six years the Levoy Theatre presented productions on 956 days and sold over 204,000 tickets. Today they show no sign of slowing down.

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