According to Kenn McLaughlin that's the word pretty much everyone has said aloud when they step onto the Lester and Sue Smith stage in the 223-seat arena theater of Stage's new campus. Seats surround all sides of the stage providing an unimpeded view to audience members of whatever will be going on there.
And that's just part of The Gordy, the massive new $35 million theater setting at 800 Rosine that Stages has put together since mounting a massive fund-raising campaign — helped along considerably by Russell and Glenda Gordy — and then breaking ground in May 2018. The Houston Press took an early tour of the new digs guided by Artistic Director McLaughlin, Managing Director Mark Folkes and Director of Development & Communications Lise Bohn, and found a spacious, open and thoughtful space that puts together the components of theater (production as well as acting and directing) in a way that makes sense.
Three theaters, a 300-space parking garage and 56 restrooms are statistics sure to make any theater-goer happy. Add to that a state-of-the-art bar to the left as you enter the main lobby — with wine, beer and cocktails on tap — and you realize fairly quickly that this Stages, at least in terms of its new facilities, is a far cry from its former home one block to the north.
But there's another behind the scenes level for actors and directors. Yes the new well-lighted dressing rooms are super duper, but it's the rehearsal rooms that will really move things along. For the first time ever, the rehearsal rooms fit the stage footprint, McLaughlin says. That means that they don't have to make sudden adjustments when they come in for their final rehearsals on stage.The other day they had set aside the usual one day to transition from rehearsal room to stage, McLaughlin says. Instead, they were done with the technical aspects in 45 minutes and were able to spend the rest of the day actually rehearsing the play.
On Saturday January 18 there will be a Grand Opening Community Celebration starting with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 2 p.m. followed by a public open house until 5:30 p.m. that will include performances food trucks and special discounts.
Visitors will have a chance to enter the lobby — only one entrance in the new building — and move on from there to take in the Sterling Stage, a 251 seat thrust theater, the Rochelle and Max Levit Stage , a 134-seat black box theater, as well as the Smith Stage which like the Sterling has two seating levels.
When we toured it, tests were still being made on the sound and communication systems which among other things enable actors waiting in a dressing room to hear the lines being spoken on stage to know when they should make their entrance. And speaking of entrances, there should be no more missed cues as happened recently when an actor in the old building was unable to make his way quickly enough through people standing in the lobby. "He missed his entrance," McLaughlin says.
The other aspect of the new Stages that is being emphasized involves community engagement. With this beautiful space, not always in use, with not all its parts always in use, (It won't be until March that all three theaters are running simultaneously.) Folkes says he is working on determining what are the best ways and opportunities to bring the public into the facility. They want Stages to become as much as meeting place as a theater, and for now they'll be keeping the bar open an hour after the last performance is over. They're hoping people stick around to have a drink, talk and meet other people.
When they began the transformation of what had been a Museum of Fine Arts, Houston storage facility into a theater, some of the configurations wouldn't work. They ended up going down into the ground more to expand the space they needed. Their most essential things like costumes and props are on the second floor and the building itself is highly rated for protection from hurricanes and flooding. Handicapped accessible areas extend to the back of the house where production crews work. Tension wire grids up in the catwalk area ramp up the safety factor and mean that student interns will be able to go aloft and get better training on what they're learning.
A few adjustments were made along the way. Second level railings in one theater were changed from a flat, horizontal design to tilted to discourage people from putting their drink cups and programs on them with the potential of them raining down on the people below.
One proposal that was rejected immediately was when they were told one of the theaters would need a pillar. After the sad and sorry experiences Stages had in its old building with trying to work around pillars, they immediately rejected that out of hand. Instead a heavily reinforced and not inexpensive beam was installed across the ceiling. No pillars. They should put that on a T-shirt.
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Here's the detailed activity list for opening day:
2:00 – 2:30 p.m. – Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
Stages officially cuts the ribbon and opens The Gordy!
2:30 – 5:30 p.m. – The Gordy Immersive Adventure
Gather the family and come celebrate the Grand Opening of Stages’ new home and get your first look at all three stages in action! Enjoy delicious bites from food trucks and cocktails from the bar. This one-day event features special ticket discounts and subscription packages.
• Edmundson Gallery – Experience poetry reading by Stages' community partner, Tintero projects.
• Rochelle and Max Levit Stage – Fan favorite Kelly Peters and music director Steven Jones are rehearsing music from the Stages' classic hit - Always...Patsy Cline.
• Costume Shop – What happens at a costume fitting? See Holland Vavra and Mark Ivy as they get ready for an upcoming performance.
• Prop Shop – See a show prop being built for The Fantasticks.
• Schmitt Studio 1 – Be part of a dance class. Everyone can dance! Led by Jane Weiner of Hope Stone Dance.
• Schmitt Studio 2 – Be the first to hear a table read of Airness and learn the art of air guitar.
• Lester and Sue Smith Stage – See what it’s like during a technical rehearsal.
• Sterling Stage – See a performance with Ben Hope, Katie Barton and the cast of Ring of Fire.
• Administrative Office Lobby – Story time with Buttons! Ryan Schabach returns to delight all ages!
• Where in The Gordy is Sister? Don't miss seeing Sister as she explores The Gordy.
• Scene Shop - Watch how a scene shop functions.
Experience all 11 activities and collect your stamp for each area. When you are finished, turn in your stamped program in the Scene Shop and receive your prize.
For more information call 713.527.0123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
So come out on January 18 and see what all the fuss is about. Or wait to see The Fantasticks, their first show in the new theater which opens on January 24. It'll continue all the way through March 15 so you'll have plenty of chances. For information, call 713-527-0123 or visit stagestheatre.com.