Since its inception 10 years ago, Open Door Theater has maintained a policy of welcoming whoever wished to walk through their door with a desire to participate in community theater. Over that time, though, one thing the group never had was a door it could call its own.

That’s about to change. If all goes as planned, the curtain will go up on a new 60-seat Open Door Theater by early spring, 2010. The theater group is expecting to sign a 5-year lease on the old Convenient Food Mart store site at 910 S. Ridgeland Ave. this week.

Located at the west end of Oak Park’s arts district, the 2,800 square foot site represents a number of long-held dreams. “Harrison Street was always where we wanted to be,” said the groups’ artistic director Mary Pat Sieck, also a co-founder of the group. “We’re delighted, we’re so excited.”

The move presents several benefits to Open Door, including high visibility on the corner of Ridgeland and Harrison, convenient access to the Blue Line rapid transit line, proximity to like spirited people in the arts district, and the ability to do as they see fit within their new space.

“Half our audience comes from the city,” said Sieck. “This is an opportunity to work with younger actors and tech people, many of whom don’t drive.”

Sieck said news of Open Door’s plans has been warmly received by the arts community.

“They’ve been welcoming and excited,” she said. “It just feels like a wonderful match.”

Sieck said Open Door intends to return the favor by serving as a resource for others, including musicians, visual artists, and other theater groups.

“Hopefully we can support what they’re doing here (in the arts district.)”

For 10 years Open Door operated in the Hatch School auditorium on North Ridgeland Avenue. While Sieck expressed great appreciation to the school district and Hatch Principal Sheila Carter, she said it was time to move on.

“I could not say enough good things about (Hatch principal) Sheila Carter,” Sieck said. “She and her staff made it feel like home. But the school was becoming more and more busy.”

The new space, Sieck said, “allows us to do a lot of things.” Open Door will no longer have to take down entire sets between shows due to the grade school needing auditorium space over the weekend. The group will also be able to schedule Thursday night performances, and show runs of five weeks or longer, if desired.

Sieck said the first order of business is identifying ways to pay for the lease and for an interior build out that is estimated to run between $60,000 and $65,000. Architectural services are being provided bro bono by Oak Park architect Errol Kirsch. Other than electrical, plumbing and heating and air conditioning work, much of the renovation work will be done by volunteers.

The group will throw a fund raiser Tuesday, Nov. 17 at Trattoria 225 on Harrison Street. The event is from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. There will be both a live auction and silent auction. Attendees will also be able to donate money for specific expenses, such as $10 for a box of screws, and $50 for a chair.

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