When musician Buckethead steps off the stage at Variety Playhouse on May 21, his guitar strains will be the last music heard at the venue for the next four months.
Plans for a summer closure for renovations were already on the itinerary when the beloved Little Five Points music hall — and former movie palace — was sold last fall by Steve Harris to Agon Sports and Entertainment, owners of the Georgia Theatre in Athens.
Construction is slated to begin June 6 with a projected reopening of late September, said Brad Syna, longtime manager of Variety Playhouse.
The upgrades are expected to cost $1.3 million.
Among the changes:
- Both bars will be expanded (and “made more efficient,” Syna said). The downstairs bar will receive an opening to allow fans waiting in line to see through to the stage, while the upstairs watering hole will grow longer, with room for two or three bartenders instead of the usual single soul.
- A side bar that is never active will become the new merchandise area, which Syna believes will assist with “lobby flow” at the start and end of shows.
- The flooring near the front of the stage will be dug down about a foot and a half to even out what is frequently the “standing room” or “dance floor” area so that patrons seated in the middle of the theater can view the stage unobstructed.
- The permanent seats — about 300 downstairs — will be replaced with movie-theater-style chairs similar to what is currently in place. And yes, those plastic seats trotted out and placed in the wings for fully seated shows will be swapped out for something more visually appealing. “We got tired of hearing every comedian (who played here) say how great that we brought out the nice, plastic lawn chairs,” Syna said with a smile.
- The balcony seats, which are newer, will remain in their current state. The balcony will also be moved forward slightly, and more air conditioning will be installed upstairs and in the lobby.
- Other changes affect performers more than patrons, including improvements to the dressing rooms and updates to the lighting truss, which will alleviate production concerns for acts that travel with hefty lighting.
In its 26 years of operation, the venue, which holds 750-1,000 people depending upon seating configuration, has earned the admiration of Atlanta music fans with its combination of eclectic concert and comedy offerings and pristine sound.
Last month, Ace Frehley, Paula Poundstone and Elle King were among the acts that performed at Variety Playhouse; other shows leading up to its temporary closure include Victor Wooten on Thursday, Explosions in the Sky on Saturday and Dumpstaphunk on May 20.
As for the sound, Syna is adamant that construction alterations won’t interfere with one of the hallmarks of the venue.
“Once we get everything done, we’ll have to work on the sound again to get everything right,” he said. “We’re going to get it so that it sounds great.”