GARDINER — When the Capital City Improv actors took their final bows March 26 at Johnson Hall in downtown Gardiner, their performances became the final acts in the current chapter of the historic opera house.

This month marks the start of the long-awaited renovation of the performing arts center at 280 Water St. that is likely to keep the theater closed for at least 18 months.

“It was amazing — packed house, wonderful time,” Michael Miclon, Johnson Hall’s Executive Artistic Director, said last week. “But it was just weird to think we’re not doing another show in here until the theater is done.”

And when the curtain rises on the next performance, it will be in the 400-seat upper theater that is to be rebuilt as part of the Johnson Hall’s reconstruction project. The theater’s rehabilitation is also to include an addition of a large lobby and concession area, a full-service box office, access that meets requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, an elevator to serve all three floors and green rooms for the visiting acts. The studio theater on the ground floor, which has been home to recent performances, is also to receive an upgrade.

This month marks the start of extensive renovations to the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center at 280 Water St. in downtown Gardiner, photographed above in July 2021. The iconic facility is expected to be closed for at least 18 months. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

“We have been looking forward to the start of the Johnson Hall renovation project for more than 30 years,” Gardiner Mayor Pat Hart said Friday. “Over those years, many people and businesses have been good patrons, volunteers, donors and supporters of Johnson Hall and the arts in Gardiner.”

Gardiner Mayor Pat Hart speaks during a Gardiner City Council goal-setting session Feb. 1, 2020, at the Gardiner Public Library. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Hart and Melissa Lindley, Executive Director of Gardiner Main Street, the organization responsible for creating and sustaining a vibrant downtown neighborhood, said that when the renovation is finished, the performing arts center is expected to be an economic driver for the city in southern Kennebec County.


“People are going to be coming to Gardiner in waves, often,” Lindley said. “We’ll be getting people from further away. The class of the shows is going to be attracting new people and putting Gardiner on the map.”

Those people are likely to spend time at Gardiner’s shops and eat at its restaurants, Lindley said, and see Gardiner up close, maybe for the first time.

Early last week, volunteers cleared out the theater’s offices to prepare for construction and crews this week are to remove remaining debris before turning the building over to constructions workers.

“The first thing they will do is remove the proscenium,” he said. “That’s the one historic piece.”

The proscenium is a structure that creates a frame on the stage for the scenery and performers.

A small group will delicately take it down, store it in crates and remove it from the construction site before anything else in the building happens.


As construction schedules continue to be decided with Ganneston Construction Corp. of Augusta, the construction manager on the project, Miclon, has been working on arranging Johnson Hall’s Waterfront Concert Series.

Traditionally, the summer season has been 10 weeks long, with shows on Friday evenings. This year, Miclon said, the season has been lengthened by a week.

The roster of acts booked includes many that have not performed at the waterfront before, including the Unfinished Blues Band, The Boneheads and the Tough End Spring Band.

Because the entire building will be closed during construction, Miclon has been working on the 2022-23 season, not only lining up acts, but also finding places for them to perform.

He said he has made arrangements with the Life Community Church at 46 Church St. to host some performances. The Blind Pig Tavern at 266 Water St., across Dearborn Park from the theater, is to host Johnson Hall’s comedy shows at its function space. And after construction is completed later this year at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley at 14 Pray St., some performances are to be held there.

In the meantime, theater officials said they continue to raise money to meet a fundraising goal that has been subject to inflationary pressures in the construction industry.

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