Bright Box celebrates its first anniversary

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Bright Box celebrates its first anniversary

By LAURA MCFARLAND

Winchester Star 05/01/2014, Pages C05, C06

WINCHESTER — Downtown Winchester has been good to the Bright Box Theater in its first year, and its staff is ready to celebrate.

May 3 and the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival saw the grand opening of the venue on the Loudoun Street Mall in 2013, and owner Marilyn Finnemore hopes the event will mark its continued presence for many years to come at 15 N. Loudoun St.

She has a lineup of events from Friday to Sunday that celebrate what the venue is about and will continue to offer the community. “It is almost appropriate that our anniversary is Apple Blossom because Apple Blossom really shows how much fun Winchester likes to have,” said Finnemore of Loudoun County. The Bright Box will have a weekend full of shows to celebrate the anniversary, she said. 

The venue has two CD release party shows for indie-folk band Dear Creek at 3 and 7 p.m. Friday. Tickets to the first show are $8 in advance and $10 at the door and for the evening show, $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

A concert featuring bluegrass bands Strung Like a Horse and Gallows Bound will be held at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets to the show are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

The weekend ends with “ Melissa Wright Presents an All-Star Tribute to Patsy Cline” at 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

The Bright Box set out to offer new and exciting events people couldn’t see elsewhere in Winchester, and it is a standard organizers have maintained, said Josh Huff, general manager.

For the anniversary, they considered bringing back a few fan favorites, but decided against it because growth and pushing themselves are two big goals, he said. 

“It is about never resting on our laurels. It is always going to be about what experience can we bring, what new bigger names can we bring, and what new music and bands can we bring,” said Huff, of Winchester.

That includes some great partnerships with groups such as Shenandoah Conservatory and Magic Lantern Theater to bring different events in, he said.

Over the last year, it has become clear what Winchester has a soft spot for — “ really excellent roots music” and comedy, Finnemore said. They started with 50 people at one comedy show on a Saturday night and have expanded to two back- toback, sold- out per formances. To meet the continued demand, a Friday night seating is being added.

“I didn’t realize so many people would embrace comedy, but we have the perfect room for comedy. It is almost like it was built for comedy,” she said.

Another surprise was how much people like to dress up for theme nights, she said. She hired Cheryl Ash as special event curator for the venue in part to bring in monthly parties by Dancing Beagle Events. All the attendees of a Bootleggers Ball on New Year’s Eve showed up in 1920s period dress while a Mardi Gras Celebration saw some festive outfits.

These have all been opportunities Finnemore didn’t foresee when she renovated the space in the Bright Center to use as a theater. She also didn’t realize how quickly she would need to expand the venue’s usable space.

“ The city has embraced this much more than I had hoped for,” she said. “ I thought it would take a little longer to get our feet under us.”

When it opened, the theater took up 2,000 square feet with another 2,500 square feet for accompanying rooms such as a lobby, board room, kitchen area, bathrooms and what was to become a box office and a coat check room.

The board room on the first floor has since been renovated to become the Brilliant Room, used for special events. On the second floor, the new Radiant Room lets events expand their scope and space or allows for a completely separate show to run at the same time as one in the theater.

While it was hoped that Winchester would be interested in the entertainment aspect of the venue, it took organizers by surprise how many people wanted to hold events there, Huff said. That is in part what necessitated earlier expansion.

Customers also really took to the food, leading to an expansion of the kitchen area, he said. “With so many great restaurants downtown, our first thought was maybe they will only want an appetizer or dessert. We have been pleasantly surprised at how many people make a full night of it here.”

Last weekend, Ash unveiled a “quirky fun menu” for the Bright Box to keep engaging people’s senses, including a whole tater tot menu. “ A lot of the sauces we use are made in house using beers and wines we carry, including Drunken Tater Tots with an IPA and cheese sauce.”

Part of a new going green initiative at Bright Box is to have a locally sourced, seasonal menu, even using a little produce grown in an onsite kitchen garden, said Ash of Berryville. The venue is launching the full initiative in June.

Finnemore said her whole focus with starting the Bright Box was to help build traffic in Old Town and create a place with an arts focus and that hasn’t changed. What has changed and will continue to do so is the Bright Box itself.

“We are always adding specials, changing our menus, adding decorations, making things more beautiful, and improving processes,” she said. “It is a very interesting business and we want to be cutting edge.”