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Architect offers Fifth Row Center his services
0728fifth-paul gilger
Paul Gilger

A California architect who designed film studios for film director George Lucas and a concert set for singer Madonna has offered his help to Fifth Row Center, a community theater group in Flowery Branch.

The connection was made when Paul Gilger of Warren Hedgpeth Architects in Santa Rosa learned Fifth Row had shown his plans for Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse as part of presentations concerning its hopes for an eventual, permanent home.

“I was very, very moved that they held up 6th Street Playhouse as an example,” said Gilger, who also has designed Super Bowl sets and prepared designs for Disney/MGM studios in Tokyo.

“I got my start in community theater ... and that’s where it starts,” he said in a phone interview this week. “It’s important to support our arts, and I always feel that what goes around, comes around. I do believe that if we help each other, everybody is going to benefit.”

Flowery Branch City Council gave its informal approval May 20 to a request by Fifth Row to lease a downtown office building owned by the city and next to City Hall.

Discussion and signing of the lease is set for the council’s Aug. 12 meeting.

“We are moving forward at long last and it will be a joy to be in our own physical space,” said Donna Chalmers, artistic director for Fifth Row.

The group operates largely out of The Springs Church at 6553 Spout Springs Road, but growth in its program has Fifth Row bumping into the growing congregation.

The theater group would lease 5509 Main St. for $1 per month for six months, then $250 per month thereafter. Plus, Fifth Row would pay all utilities.

Also if the city gets an offer for the space at the market price, “we have so many days to meet that price or move on,” Chalmers said.

“We’ve worked out the details with the city, so we’ll be in there probably at the end of August,” Chalmers said.

She said Fifth Row is “looking forward to using that space for acting classes for all ages, some dance classes, rehearsals for our plays, offices and some storage space — and perhaps some small-audience shows.”

“It’ll be great to be on Main Street ... and be part of revitalization of that area,” Chalmers added.

After hearing about Fifth Row’s efforts, Gilger approached Fifth Row about donating eight hours of design services.

Chalmers gladly accepted but said she told Gilger that the theater group “won’t be ready to build in ... who knows?” and that the city space provides only 1,600 square feet.

“He said, ‘I can make it feel like it’s 6,000 square feet and it’ll be efficient,’ ” she said.

When Gilger mentioned the Lucas project, “I about fell over,” Chalmers said. “I could not believe that somebody of his caliber was calling little ol’ us.”

As for the eight hours, “it could even be more than that,” Gilger said. “Right now, we’re kind of stalled because one of things we have to do legally — even just volunteering our time — we do have to get our Georgia architectural license.

“We’re in the process of doing paperwork and, unfortunately, it’s kind of slow right now.”

From Fifth Row’s perspective, “several things have to happen with the building to make it really function for us,” Chalmers said.

One of the key needs is adding flooring.

“The city wants hardwood, if we can manage it,” Chalmers said.

Gilger shared his thoughts on that, as well.

“If they are looking to have a space that is fairly flexible, where they are able to move their seats around and create different performance layouts or open up the space and use it for rehearsal, actually a hardwood floor is not the way to go,” he said.

“That’s a lot of money that’s unnecessarily spent. The best thing for any kind of stage is ... Masonite over a plywood floor that allows you to paint it. When you’re doing theater, you want to be able paint the floor to match your sets or whatever you might want to do.”