The organization is asking for the public’s help in updating the Portland Community Theater

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PORTLAND — A Portland community theater organization is asking for the public’s help to upgrade its historic building.

The Portland Civic Players are seeking donations to replace the original marquee at the Portland Community Theater, 231 Maple St. – along with other improvements as part of a multi-year project.

Anyone interested in donating to the theater can visit its GoFundMe page. The Portland Civict Players have raised around $40,000 of a goal of $120,000.

The Portland Civic Players were formed in 1955 and are an all-volunteer organization, according to a press release. The organization purchased the building now known as the Portland Community Theater in 1971. The former Sun Theater movie theater was built in 1948 and the marquee is original to the building, according to the release.

Portland Civic Players board chair Mary Teachout told The Sentinel-Standard that the organization launched the project in 2018, but has described it as “a struggle” ever since. An ice jam on the Grand River caused flooding in Portland in 2019. The following year, the COVID-19 pandemic began, further delaying the project.

“(Theater) provides a great outlet for the community,” Teachout said.

Marquee replacement is now required for Portland Civic Players due to safety and functionality issues, according to the release. The steel structure strains the building and the letters are increasingly difficult to find.

The current design, which requires letters to be placed and removed manually, “is difficult and inconvenient to use by the community at large” – according to the organization. Few bulbs are left around the outside of the marquee.

A new marquee will have an aluminum frame and LED screens instead of lettering, Teachout said.

“We hope the LED screens will make it much more user-friendly on our end and we can use it for much more than our own organization,” Teachout said.

The exterior renovation begins a multi-year renovation plan for the entire theater, according to the release.

The organization has raised approximately $16,000 over the past two years to complete some exterior work. The theater was closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – allowing organizers to raise funds, the statement said. The theater was sealed and painted on three sides and the catwalk was covered with painted galvanized steel cladding.

Updates and repairs still needed include:

  • Replace the original marquee button and tube wiring, ensuring that all wiring complies with applicable safety codes.
  • Remove and replace the original heavy steel marquee structure with a more efficient aluminum structure that will not stress the building.
  • Replace signs and letters with energy-efficient LED screens.
  • Add two lights to the face of the building that will point skyward when turned on.
  • Add lighting in original poster display cases.
  • Powder coat the metal frame of LED screens.
  • The addition of over 200 individual energy efficient LED bulbs to the bottom of the marquee and around the LED screens restores the marquee to its original appearance.

The Portland Civic Players applied for a capital improvement grant from the Michigan Arts and Culture Council for the project, Teachout said. She hopes the project can be completed in the summer of 2023.

Teachout noted that the Portland Civic Players provide an affordable theatrical experience between Lansing and Grand Rapids. The organization’s summer youth theater program had 75 participants.

“We really try to provide a lot to the community,” Teachout said. “The kids love the program and the shows we do. It’s a very big family atmosphere that we try to provide. We are having a lot of fun.”

The Portland Civic Players will have auditions for “Shrek the Musical” in late August.

More information about the theater can be found on the Portland Civic Players Facebook page and website: portlandcivicplayers.com.

— Contact journalist Evan Sasiela at esasiela@sentinel-standard.com. Follow him on Twitter @SalsaEvan.

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