Less than a month out from an already long-awaited opening, Altamont Theatre Company announces that its inaugural season — slated to kick off on Wednesday, Feb. 9 — has been postponed.
“We had a problem we had to fix around Christmas,” says Executive Director Brian Lee. The unfortunate timing meant that once that problem (“a little bit of an electrical issue … we had to go back and redo some stuff that delayed the inspection process”) was fixed, the City of Asheville’s Building Safety Department (which provides inspections necessary for a Certificate of Occupancy) was on holiday vacation. “We still have a series of steps we have to go through to to get the theatre open,” says Lee. “We’re close, but we should be rehearsing our show here pretty quickly and I don’t want to be opening the space and rehearsing at the same time. That’s too daunting. It was better to say, ‘let’s just postpone.’”
Lee is quick to point out that the foibles preventing a February grand opening are no one’s fault. “It’s what you get with construction — it’s part of the unknown elements,” he says. The fact that the building at 18 Church Street is an historic property compounds the project’s difficulty. Luckily, some parts of the project have gone according to plan. The Altamont building also contains six residential units on the upstairs level. These, according to Lee (who owns the property with his wife, Tiffany), are functional and being rented out. According to the website, the apartments are “a truly unique and inspiring blend of history, the arts, and stylish eco-friendly living in our brand new, fully furnished, and beautifully appointed seasonal rentals that occupy the upper floors of the historic and soon-to-be LEED certified Altamont building.” (LEED is Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, an internationally-recognized certification system for green building.)
As for the performance space, the 120-seat black box theatre was conceived of by New Yorkers Brian (who formerly worked in the software industry) and Tiffany who, according to the Altamont website was “one of the founding members of the Theatre Development Fund’s Friends of TDF, a volunteer organization established to raise awareness of TDF’s many theatre programs and services.” Their story: “After attending an Asheville family reunion, both Brian and Tiffany were ready to return to N.C. to raise a family. They began to formulate a plan to produce professional Musical Theatre in downtown Asheville.”
Though the original start date was slated for November, 2010, Lee says the plan is still a go. “We’ll keep the season we have. We’ll still open with Pete ‘n’ Keely, we’ll just move it to a fall slot.” Another show, Romance/Romance, had been dropped from the Spring lineup; it’s been reinstated to the Fall roster rounding out four shows (including Songs for a New World and Five Guys Named Moe).
Nonetheless, if you’re curious about Altamont, you won’t have to wait another six months to get inside the space. Lee plans to start booking other acts — mainly live music — as soon as possible.
“That’s always been the plan,” he says. “When you look at the space, it’s set up well for performance. Am I looking to bring in large rock bands? No. The Orange Peel does that well. We’re looking at a little bit of a different niche. It could be the singer/songwriter, somebody’s who’s up-and-coming. I’d love to get some jazz; we’re talking to folks about chamber music and other classical pieces. I could see a string band; I could see a string quartet or a small jazz combo.”
Lee says that some touring comedy acts have also been in touch about using the space. He envisions “somebody local, could be regional. Hopefully we’ll get some better-known artists to come in there and do acoustic sets. Unplugged, really. I’m hoping we can get somebody who says, ‘I really want to satisfy that artist need.’ … “Would I love to be able to pull 300 or 400 people in? Sure, but that’s just not where we are. We’re not at that capacity.”
Ultimately, he says, “The key to it is that intimate performance. You won’t experience that anywhere else.”
It’s too soon to announce those acts, says Lee, “because I don’t have 100-percent commitments and I don’t want to back anyone into a corner.” But watch for an announcement on the theatre company’s website — Lee says the info will be released soon.