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Ashley Hamilton cleans the marquee in preparation for Barking Legs Theater's open house.

Barking Legs performers' tree

Below are some of the artists who have performed at the Dodd's Avenue venue over the last 20 years.

• Andrew Bird

• Norman and Nancy Blake

• Allison Brown

• Junior Brown

• Jeff Coffin

• John Cowan

• Beppe Gambetta

• Col. Bruce Hampton

• Gill Landry

• Noam Pikelny

• Matthew Shipp

IF YOU GO

* What: Barking Legs Theater Grand Reopening.

* When: 6:30 p.m. tonight.

* Where: Barking Legs Theater, 1307 Dodds Ave.

* Admission: Free.

* Phone: 624-5347.

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Mary Sartain cleans a wall before touching up paint during the remodeling of the Barking Legs Theater. The seats and risers have been moved forward, creating this hallway in the back that leads to the restrooms.
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Ashley Hamilton paints a pedestal for a bathroom sink to match artwork in the lobby at Barking Legs Theater.

One week before Barking Legs Theater is set to reopen after a $156,000 renovation, co-owner/manager Ann Law is excitedly showing off the work.

The floor is covered in plastic, workers arrive to lay carpet, chairs in various states of disrepair are scattered throughout, and artist Ashley Hamilton is painting the bathroom sinks to match some of the artwork in the front of the house.

"I'm bringing the front to the back and putting the funk back into Barking Legs," Hamilton says with a laugh.

Law is proud of everything being done, but she is especially pleased with the new entryway marker in the concrete that reads "Barking Legs Theater est. 1993."

"Do you love it?" she beams.

Her excitement allows her to overlook the state of things and instead see the potential, which is something she has done since moving here 23 years ago with her husband, Dr. Bruce Kaplan, and opening the venue in what was then a questionable part of town.

In the past two decades, the funky little building on Dodds Avenue has served as an incubator for the creative, the weird, the visionary, the truly gifted and those simply willing to take a chance on an idea that others might think silly or bizarre. It's that type of attitude that Law and Kaplan want to foster, and the reason they've renovated the space.

The stage area, which fans and artists have praised for its intimacy and quality, remains essentially the same. The sound system has been upgraded, and the seating has been pulled away from the back wall to create an aisle to the restrooms. The door separating the stage area from the lobby has been soundproofed, and the backstage area has been redone to allow for more flexibility for the various types of shows hosted in the theater.

"Flexibility is the key word," Kaplan says. "We wanted to make it easier for people to use so they will use the space."

Equipment is stored in big boxes on wheels and curtains can be utilized to change the stage configuration, and a hallway was widened to allow for moving a piano between rooms, which means the new lobby space can be transformed into a piano bar on occasion. An outdoor stage with seating is also being completed behind the building.

The biggest noticeable change is that the wall separating the lobby and the performance space was moved, creating an open space for a bar -- from which they plan to feature locally brewed beer -- a ticket booth, tables and chairs, a flatscreen TV and window shelving for Law's growing number of jade plants. The original plants were house-warming gifts from long-time supporter Linda Woodall and Law has been replanting cuttings ever since, keeping some and giving some as gifts to donors in the recent fundraising campaign to pay for the renovation.

The lobby, it is hoped, will become a place for "conversation, imagination and community participation," Law says.

Along with donations from about 150 people, money for the project came from the Benwood and Lyndhurst foundations. The $156,000 spent is about what Law had budgeted, but she didn't count on having to spend $11,000 on a new heating and air conditioning system or $5,000 on a new ceiling.

With folding chairs, the space will seat about 160, about what it held before the renovation. And, as before, patrons will be within an arm's length of the performers.

Over the years, Barking Legs has played host to classes and workshops, but Law and Kaplan say they've not been consistently well attended, so they plan to focus on performance events from now on.

"This is a lot about growing and expanding and challenging ourselves and the community," she says.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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Ann Law talks about the renovation of the Barking Legs Theater while standing in the expanded front lobby area.
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