AUGUSTA — The Colonial Theatre is forming a youth acting troupe, well before the historic but long-vacant downtown theater building will be ready to host it.

While renovation at the building may take more than two more years and $8.5 million to complete, the Colonial Theatre Youth Troupe will be ready to stage its first production, a musical, on stages at various locations around the area.

Auditions are scheduled for Saturday in a former church at 70 State St., which organizers have dubbed the Colonial Theatre Annex.

Officials say having a youth theater group formed before the Colonial is ready will benefit the theater by getting programming up and running so it’ll be ready when the theater opens, and helping build support for the renovation and expansion of the theater.

Barbara Helen Baker, an actress, director and theater teacher who’ll lead the youth troupe, said Augusta is lacking in live theater, youth or otherwise.

“It seemed to me it’d be better to have a program already in effect, when you’re refurbishing this building,” Baker said. “It should help generate some interest in the project.”

Sue McPhee, capital campaign consultant for the Colonial Theatre, said a youth theater troupe forming now will help ensure that program will be ready when the theater is.

“We really need to start thinking about our programming now. There is no question whether this will happen. It will. So we have to be prepared. Programming now makes a lot of sense in terms of getting folks interested in the theater,” McPhee said.

The plan for funding the renovation of the riverside building, vacant since 1969 when it closed, includes using $2 million in historic preservation credits. In addition, fundraising efforts already underway have brought in about $630,000 so far. That leaves just under $5.9 million for the nonprofit group that owns the theater to raise to meet its $8.5 million fundraising goal.

In October city councilors agreed to commit $300,000 in city money to help restore and reopen the theater, though the money won’t be paid to the nonprofit group until the project is substantially complete.

Recent donations to the theater include a $30,000 check from Skowhegan Savings, which has a bank branch in Augusta.

“When completed, we feel that the theatre will be a great asset to the community of greater Augusta and we’re proud to be able to be a part of that,” Dan Tilton, senior vice president of customer relations for the bank, said in a news release.

“For over 50 years, the Colonial was an important gathering place for the Augusta community,” said Bill Williamson, of Portland, a co-chairman of the theater’s fundraising campaign. His grandfather, William B. Williamson, built the Colonial Theatre and also operated it.

“This campaign re-imagines the Colonial with a plan that will culturally enrich and drive economic growth for the region,” Williamson said. “We are very appreciative for Skowhegan Savings Bank’s support and recognition of the importance of the campaign.”

Even though fundraising is far from complete, work is already underway on the building. A new roof was installed recently.

Richard Parkhurst, leader of efforts to restore and reopen the 1913 theater, said when it is restored, it could host as many as 300 shows a year, bringing culture, people and revenue to the city’s downtown Water Street area.

The proposed theater would have about 800 seats and include a new structure to be built on a now-vacant lot next door, which Parkhurst said was donated to the project by East Winthrop resident Tom Johnson. Parkhurst himself has donated the use of the annex, which he owns, for the use of the troupe.

Plans call for adding bathrooms and other modern amenities and bringing the structure into compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements so that it is accessible to everyone.

Baker anticipates the youth theater troupe eventually will be for children from ages 5 to 16, but the first play will be for youths ages 8 to 12.

Baker said 20 youths already have signed up. Participation is not limited to Augusta residents; it is open to all. No prior acting experience is necessary to audition. People may contact Baker at 512-8254 or by email at [email protected] to schedule an audition.

The 15-week program costs $250 per child, with some scholarship money available. Students will meet weekly, from 4 to 6 p.m., for classes in acting, singing and dancing.

In April, the program will conclude with performances of Baker’s original musical, “All in the Planetary,” which she described as an “astrological piece about the planets and the problems the Earth is having with humans.”

Baker has taught theater in Maine and Texas for more than 30 years. She appeared in the Woody Allen film “An Irrational Man” and the Maine film “Beneath the Harvest Sky” and has directed numerous productions, including the “Fame in Maine” project, in which she directed now well-known actor Patrick Dempsey when he was just 17.

In October, Parkhurst said the Colonial Theatre would open in 29 months.

The Colonial Theatre was listed on Maine Preservation’s Most Endangered Properties list in 2011, but it also was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj