GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Dog Story Theater is getting new life inside a Heritage Hill building that used to be a pizza shop.
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The Grand Rapids theater, which used to be located on Jefferson Avenue near Fulton Street, closed its doors in 2020 due to the pandemic. The theater, first opened in 2008 and named after a monologue in “Zoo Story,” a play by Edward Albee, offers an affordable space for actors to rent out.
The theater is a nonprofit that relies on donations and rental fees for the space, and it couldn’t afford to continue operating after COVID-19 hit, Dog Story Theater President Jay Harnish explained.
“Having to close our doors for that long and not knowing when they’d reopen, we had to eventually leave. We couldn’t afford our lease at the last space anymore,” he said.
He said the theater’s board worked hard to keep it from dissolving and got a storage unit for the theater’s equipment. They started looking for a new place near the end of the pandemic. Harnish said they didn’t want to be closed for as long as they were.
“Right now just happens to be the time that we found this awesome space that I’m really excited about,” he said.
Dog Story Theater is now set to move into 340 State St. near Prospect Avenue, less than half a mile from the old location.
“It’s a familiar neighborhood for our patrons and a lot of the people that worked in Dog Story Theater,” Harnish said. “I think it’s a beautiful building. I threw it out to my broker as a fluke, like, ‘It would be cool if we could get into a space in this area; that would be like a real win.’”
The building used to house Joezano’s Pizza, a restaurant Harnish patronized while working at the theater.
“When we saw it empty, it was just it was amazing. It was like, we knew this was the place. We had looked at so many places over the past two years,” he said.
Harnish said they had a hard time finding a place that checked all the boxes, like being in the right neighborhood and having enough open space without support columns.
“Everything I was kind of on edge about,” he said. “So when we found this this spring, it was really exciting.”
Dog Story Theater is fundraising as it works to reopen next year. Necessary renovations in the 1,888-square-foot space include adding an extra exit, adding an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restroom and structurally supporting the floor so they can have more people in the space.
The community has been responsive, Harnish said, adding that some people who haven’t been able to donate shared the theater’s online fundraiser link and expressed excitement for the new spot.
“That means so much to us as we’re getting going again,” he said. “We’re a small nonprofit and we really depend on our donors and … rental. And since we’re not able to rent the space yet, this fundraising helps so much.”
He said he’s asking supporters of the theater to donate the cost of a ticket for a show at Dog Story Theater: $35.
“If everybody … that followed us on Facebook donated that amount, we would blow past our goal and we’d be able to actually go into our second phase of the remodel and add more seating,” he said.
Harnish said artists can’t always afford to rent out a larger theater, so spaces like the Dog Story Theater are important for Grand Rapids’ art scene.
“Art in general is something that people need because it makes the world beautiful,” Harnish said. “There’s so much heavy stuff happening in our world right now, and to be able to go somewhere and sit down and escape for an hour to laugh, to get scared, to fall in love, to go and see like beautiful paintings at a gallery, and be transported into different worlds, and to listen to music and have the emotions that music can swell up in your soul — all that stuff is so important to the human condition. And Grand Rapids fortunately has a lot of it.”