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Waiting for the curtain to rise at Everyman

The day before technical rehearsals were to begin with lights, sound and costumes bringing life to the newly created stage at Everyman Theatre, workers buzzed about the renovated spaces on three floors adding final touches.

In less than a week, their efforts will yield the city’s newest theater, an $18 million, 34,000-square-foot playhouse in what was once a vaudeville den known as The Empire that opened in 1910 at 315 W. Fayette St.

The completion of the 18-month redevelopment of the Beaux Arts-style theater adds another arts venue to the city’s growing West Side cultural scene. Nearby, the Hippodrome Theatre and gallery space inside the iconic Bromo Seltzer Tower have established the area as an artistic hub.

The coming days at Everyman will see more of a whirlwind as new furniture, a large lobby sculpture and cast photos are installed — all while actors refine their roles in the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “August: Osage County,” by Tracy Letts, set to formally open Jan. 18.

“We have been here one month and we already feel at home,” said Vincent Lancisi, Everyman’s founding artistic director and director of the play, during a tour of the new theater.

Lancisi, 51, said the week-long grand opening celebrations begin Monday morning with a ribbon cutting by Everyman officials, patrons and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Later that evening, the first performance will take place before a select audience of 250.

The move from a small rented space on North Charles Street to the new location, which began in late November, capped several years of fundraising that attracted donations from area businesses, individuals, the city and state to convert the building into a gleaming new theater.

The building, which later became the Town movie theater, had closed in 1990 and was donated to Everyman by the Bank of America and the Harold A. Dawson Trust, an Atlanta real estate company.

Once Everyman is open, it expects to produce 200 shows each year and attract more than 30,000 theater-goers downtown to an area planned for a series of other major developments, including the new Superblock, and a residential and commercial space where the former Morris A. Mechanic Theatre is located.

In addition, Everyman will bring jobs to the city’s West Side. The theater employs a full-time staff of 20 and “dozens” of part-timers, Lancisi said.

“Our hope is that it will attract more culture, more companies and more theater,” said Ian Tresselt, Everyman’s managing director.

On Tuesday, Lancisi said it would kick off what would certainly be a proud and emotional time.

Video: Behind the scenes at the new Everyman Theatre

“This is a physical realization of a lifetime of work, dreams and visions,” said Lancisi, who founded the nonprofit theatre in 1990 and eventually moved it to 1727 N. Charles St. “I imagined this building in my mind. What it’s like is a bit of an out-of-body experience. It’s like a dream.”

He pointed to the multi-level set designed by Daniel Ettinger and said it was a hallmark of the new digs — the old stage was too small to produce the three-act Tracy Letts play.

As he spoke, lighting engineer Jay Herzog adjusted high-powered beams on a two-level grid suspended over the stage. Neat rows with a total 253 seats awaited patrons, and new classrooms, a lobby bar and public reception space were being prepped for opening night.

The new Everyman has several special designs. A large, magenta-tinted mural greets patrons as they enter the main lobby with sketches of past Everyman set designs and costume renderings. And a series of 24 sconces placed along the walls of the main theatre light up with photographs of the Everyman’s resident cast members from past productions.

Backstage, two dressing rooms and an actor’s lounge offer spacious areas to prep for the dramatic work.

Lancisi said the first performance open to the public will be a “pay what you can” offering on Jan. 15. A formal, gala celebration will take place on Jan. 18 and 19 with catered meals and champagne toasts.

“We will call on the ghosts of the vaudeville stars,” Lancisi said, with a hint of drama and nostalgia. “And there will be spirits of people who aren’t with us anymore.”