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Arts & Culture

Mad Cow Theatre moves into new home

As anticipation rises, the old space receives a fond farewell

Photo: Visual Impact Studios, License: N/A

Visual Impact Studios

54 W. Church St.

Photo: Tom Hurst, License: N/A

Tom Hurst

Mad Cow's old home at 105 S. Magnolia Ave.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Tom Hurst

Mitzi Maxwell

For Mad Cow Theatre patrons, actors, directors and staff like executive director Mitzi Maxwell, as one curtain falls, another rises – in this case, with a high-rise view.

The whirl of construction equipment through the space at 54 W. Church St. is receding, the sawdust and plaster knocked away, leaving the home Maxwell and company always wanted.

"Construction is about 95 percent complete, and we're moving into a phase where we're installing equipment, some of the final finishes in the theater," Maxwell says. "It's very exciting to see it get to this point, since it's really a project that's been in the works for almost a decade."

It's not done yet, but it's tantalizingly close.

And it's not a "happy ending" to the Mad Cow tale – a nomadic theater group venue-hopping all the way to Magnolia Street and onward. Consider it a turning of the page.

Although they are literally moving on up, to a second-floor corner space on Church Street Plaza, Mad Cow's mission continues. Four walls do not a theater company make.

"Mad Cow has been downtown since the year 2000," Maxwell says. "One of the things I'm really proud of is how not only patrons, but also the city has worked tirelessly to keep this project going. We've managed to weave ourselves into the fabric of downtown. People want to see more art happening here."

Make no mistake: Mad Cow remain the same eccentric bunch, lovedrunk on their craft. But give their new building its due; it's earned your anticipation. The main lobby, paned with enormous windows, is the focal point of the complex, framing the plaza bustle below while enticing passersby from above.

According to Maxwell, roughly four million people traverse Church Street in a year. "Most everyone who comes to Mad Cow today is coming downtown just to see Mad Cow – there aren't many last-minute decisions to pop in and see a theatrical show. But in this new location, we're going to have a lot more people to market to, people on the street that will come up to the theater, in addition to the patrons who have been attending for over 10 years."

Like the former location, Church Street features two performance spaces. The larger venue, the Harriett (named for benefactor Harriett Lake), improves on the Magnolia Avenue's Stage Left by adding 50 tiered seats and vaulted ceilings – up from 10 feet to 13 feet. The extra height allows lighting designers to use more dynamic, complex rigs, while the tiered seating helps retain Stage Left's homey vibe. The second venue – a versatile, currently unnamed black box – accommodates myriad stage and seating arrangements.

Ticket holders may not notice other improvements from the front of the house, such as spacious prop storage and dressing rooms, but they will nonetheless be evident during shows. Whereas actors were cramped in the wings in their old home, now they can breathe a little easier, while raising the bar of their performances onstage.

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