Stage West’s $ 3 million theater expansion brings new experiences to Fort Worth

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This week, Stage West opens its new season in freshly expanded spaces that include a bright lobby, upgraded rehearsal room, and flexible theater, making the entire performing arts installation one of a kind at Fort Worth.

It was estimated that the $ 3 million renovation would take around two years, possibly two and a half years when it began in 2017.

It took almost four – plus a pandemic.

COVID-19, for all its devastation, gave the theater a chance: The closure of all live performances due to the pandemic allowed the 43-year-old theater company to breathe a bit to complete the project.

In fact, said Executive Director Dana Schultes, the pandemic delay may have saved Stage West: “If we had tried to play while doing this project, we might not have succeeded. “

What is special about The Evie

The newly-christened black box performance space, the Evelyn Wheeler Swenson Theater, is named after the late mother of a Stage West patron.

When the Evie, as it’s called, is set up in a round, it can seat up to 210 people, which is more than the company’s long-standing neighbor home, the Jerry Russell Theater (146 seats).

It will transform what audiences will see at Stage West by giving the company more range in staging shows: In its new season, Stage West will use the Evie in four different configurations from 60 seats to 210.

This season starts Thursday, with Aaron Posner’s JQA, representing President John Quincy Adams.

Thanks to architect Morris McIntosh, who designed the expansion and renovation, the Evie shares a lighting booth, dressing rooms and rehearsal room with the theater’s former Jerry Russell Theater, which has also been modernized. .

Stage West’s newly refurbished lobby features an upgraded bar and kitchen. It also has a new balcony area. Former Stage West artistic director Jim Covault is on the far left.(Jen Schultes | West Scene)

Joint setup means Stage West can switch between the two spaces. It also means the company can host their own shows in one while using the other for acting lessons – or renting it out to performing arts groups or local event planners.

A long-time board member, Subie Green stood in the new lobby and called Stage West’s transformation since its inception in 1979 a “miracle.”

“This organization was founded in a sandwich shop in the city center [by the late artistic director Jerry Russell]”Green said.” So it came from next to nothing. And when you see what happened to this space “- a 1931 bus garage that Stage West moved into in 1981 -” ​​it’s just a miracle. It’s like the state of the art.

Green cited not only the behind-the-scenes improvements for the cast, but also the location of Stage West. It’s a performing arts attraction in what has become Fort Worth’s growing, pedestrianized Near Southside neighborhood – a performing arts attraction that she laughed at now owns ” a well-stocked bar ”.

The perfect timing of COVID

Schultes said the pandemic has struck at a critical time. Shortly after COVID shut down the company’s shows, they discovered that their original construction plans for the two separate theater spaces to operate with separate electrical systems were not going to go through with city inspectors. .

Trying to revise those plans, finish building the facility while raising money to pay for the project – and, oh yeah, simultaneously putting on a full season of plays – all of that would have likely exhausted the business, said Schultes.

General manager Dana Schultes says she has completed the $ 3 million renovation of the Stage West Theater "would have been a nightmare" without the pandemic interrupting live performances.
Executive Director Dana Schultes said completing the $ 3 million Stage West Theater renovation “would have been a nightmare” without the pandemic disrupting live performances.(Brian Elledge / Staff Photographer)

“When the city said, ‘No, it will be an electric service’, that changed everything,” she said. “If we had gone ahead it would have been a nightmare. We would have been faced with the fact that we could not use all of the building until everything is done. So continuing to perform would have meant finding another location, which would have required a colossal rent. And where – where would we have even gone?

Stage West certainly didn’t stop performing during the pandemic. Like many other companies, she moved on to live streaming – early on with Lucy Kirkwood’s post-nuclear accident drama, The Children. It closed due to COVID, just after its very first weekend. But within a month, Schultes had filmed it and uploaded it online.

In addition to several other projects that aired last year, Stage West has imported the production of outdoor dance on cars from the Prism Movement Theater, Everything will be alright.

As part of the upgrades that will once again welcome true theater-goers, the company’s former bus garage now features a striking lobby that gives Stage West’s entrance and restaurant more light, color and light. of space. This is in part because a good deal of the floor space has been lifted up to create a wraparound balcony, which can be used as another small stage.

And there could be more updates to come.

The designation of the Near Southside as an officially recognized cultural district of Texas allows the theater to apply for a grant to redesign its exterior facade. With a new sign, this will increase the company’s visibility on I-30. There are even plans for a backyard patio stage – yet another possible performance space.

“Coming to the theater,” Schultes said, “it’s always interesting for me to just sit there and get sucked into a great storytelling.”

But with Evie’s adaptability when it comes to different staging, it’ll be “even cooler if you can walk into a space you’ve never been to and it’s all this new experience,” ” Oh, I’ve never seen it from that perspective before. I never imagined what it would be like to watch or sit on the stage. ‘ “

Those possibilities start Thursday at Stage West with Aaron Posner’s JQA (for John Quincy Adams.)

“JQA” at the West stadium

Aaron Posner’s JQA (for John Quincy Adams) imagines confrontations between Adams and some of his main contemporaries. October 7-31. Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays 8 p.m. Sunday, 3 p.m. Available to stream online: Thursday, October 14. Thursday and Friday broadcasts, $ 40. Saturday and Sunday shows, $ 45. www.stagewest.org.

A version of this story aired on KERA-FM (90.1) and appears on artandseek.org. It will also appear in the Arts & Life section on Sunday, October 9.


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