The pandemic has presented many challenges to The Holly Theatre's ability to present stage productions.
A total of four out of five main-stage plays were postponed until 2021 as COVID precautions limit the amount of people who can gather indoors.
Not surprisingly, theatre crowds are not currently able to pack The Holly's audience to watch the latest play.
However, the pause in the show schedule has resulted in an unexpected excess of time to work on improvements.
The Holly board of directors has taken this opportunity to schedule a major renovation to the interior, with construction set to begin this week.
Board chairman Ivana Pelnar-Zaiko said that compared to the restoration effort that was undertaken in the 1990s, which helped bring The Holly back to life after years of neglect, this renovation rivals that effort in size.
She said the improvements include the installation of a new steel grid over the stage. This will remove stress load off the roof rafters of the historic building. It will also allow the gradual addition of mechanized equipment for light and scenery changes.
In addition, the heating and cooling system will be updated.
Other improvements will include solidifying the stage construction, and positioning the new curtain more toward the front of the stage—compared to the old one which came down mid-stage.
The fire exits will be improved with the front egress (near the stage) being streamlined to get them up to code, Pelnar-Zaiko added.
Work will also be done on the get wheelchair access up to code.
Pelnar-Zaiko said spaces will be added near the entrance of the main level seating area to give the theater a total of five. In addition, an ADA compliant parking space will be added.
The lobby will also receive repairs and painting, while audience seats will receive freshening up, and will be shampooed.
With The Holly being a historic building, Pelnar-Zaiko said the construction workers have to carry everything out the front doors, causing extra wear. Therefore, new carpet will be installed in the aisles and staircases at the conclusion of the work.
This work is being made possible by two federal grants that were recently received by The Holly.
Pelnar-Zaiko said that coming on the heels of the 2018 and 2019 planning grants from the Fox Theatre Institute, the funding will come from a matching USDA Rural Business Development Grant of $99,040 and a grant of $106,732 from the Appalachian Regional Commission through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, the Georgia Mountain Regional Commission, and the Dahlonega Downtown Development Authority.
"The grants are being matched by the community’s ongoing contributions," Pelnar-Zaiko said. "Community support and involvement have been a stalwart feature of The Holly’s continued success in providing musical and dramatic enrichment for the town and region. These grants and matching donations will enable The Holly to start interior improvements and stage reconstruction and upgrades."
She said the matching grants will also provide the theater with a wheel chair lift to allow persons with disabilities access to the stage.
Although they cannot hold a public gathering to celebrate the grants and announce the "ELEVATE! Holly Theatre Campaign for New Stage Magic", Pelnar-Zaiko said the awards and matching gifts to the Campaign allowed The Holly to reach 90 percent of the $560,000 goal.
She said anyone wishing to contribute to help complete the last 10 percent of the project should visit www.hollytheater.com.
As with many community organizations, The Holly hopes to resume more normal operations next year regarding children's programs, concerts and stage shows.
"Next season we will be rolling over the shows that weren't done in 2020," Pelnar-Zaiko said. These include RIPCORD, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Sweeney Todd, and Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn.
The Holly hopes to begin shows in April, while a grand opening celebration with all the bells and whistles is tentatively planned to accompany the Beauty and the Beast show in the summer, Pelnar-Zaiko said.
In order to help bridge the gap in funding to keep the lights on during the renovations, The Holly received a $10,000 grant from the Georgia Council for the Arts (through the C.A.R.E.S. Act and the National Endowment for the Arts).
The Holly is also presenting the upcoming holiday murder mystery "Fa La La La La Dead / Grandma's Last Christmas: Singing, Dancing and Murder!" at Kaya Vineyard that will help fund operating expenses (see page 11A for details).
Pelnar-Zaiko said she hopes The Holly Theatre will emerge next spring ready to serve its patrons as a modern theater operation.