Groundbreaking to set stage for new Theatre Lawrence facility

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Theatre Lawrence will break ground this week on a new theater and performance space. The new theater, seen in this rendering, features double the seating capacity and adds classrooms and improved parking for patrons.

Theatre Lawrence will break ground this week on its new facility, which has its leaders counting down the days until they’ll escape routine scenarios like this one:

Last week, the group members had a late-afternoon meeting with an architect in the lower level of the retrofitted church the group now calls home, executive director Mary Doveton says. They had to end the meeting so a children’s class upstairs could move downstairs, enabling an adult tap-dancing class to begin and finish in the upstairs space before actors showed up to rehearse “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

“Right now we are so crammed,” Doveton says. “All of our programs are just jammed into this very small space. We’re turning kids away from children’s programs. We have things stored at three separate locations around town. We’ve had to add performances to shows this year — we’ve sold out three of our productions.”

The public is invited to the groundbreaking ceremony, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday at 4660 Bauer Farm Drive. The site is in the Bauer Farm development at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. Doveton hopes the new building will open in a year.

It will be the first time Theatre Lawrence — which celebrated its 35th anniversary last month — has had a home designed just for it.

In its first show, the troupe formerly known as Lawrence Community Theater performed “The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild” in the Carnegie Library building at 200 W. Ninth St., Doveton says. Then they squeezed in shows wherever they could — including South Park and even the Teepee Junction.

The group bought the church at 1501 N.H. in 1984 and had its first show there in 1985. Plans for the new building call for a 300-seat theater with dressing rooms and offices, plus an education wing with classrooms and outdoor space.

To build the new facility, Theatre Lawrence raised about $6.5 million, a feat Doveton describes as a “phenomenal” community effort. In addition to private donors, the Lawrence City Commission and the Douglas County Commission each pledged $100,000 to the project over the next five years, helping Theatre Lawrence exceed its initial fundraising goal of $6.2 million.

Doveton says building costs have gone up since plans were first announced. The $6.5 million would pay for only construction of the building, and the theater would continue raising money for furnishings and equipment.

The late George Woodyard, a Spanish professor and former dean of international studies at Kansas University, helped lead Theatre Lawrence’s fundraising campaign, and his sister Mabel Woodyard’s estate donated $1 million to the effort.

Eleanor Woodyard said space afforded by the new facility would help achieve her husband’s vision of exposing everybody — “young to old, rich to poor” — to theater.

“This building should be a wonderful facility for everybody in the community, to use and to come and enjoy,” she said.

Comments

Richard Heckler 7 years, 7 months ago

Baur Farms is one the great retail failures of all time. It will take more than Theatre Lawrence and Junk Food Heaven to save Baur Farms.

Taxpayers have been losing money since the day it was approved. Retail supply is UP Demand is down beyond reality = wreckanomics.

Theatre Lawrence is moving ahead..... good.

repaste 7 years, 7 months ago

And they developers will get 1% of every ticket dollar, and every dollar a parent pays for programs.

kansasredlegs 7 years, 7 months ago

Did the leaders of this fine organization ever go back before the City & County Commissions to ask that the taxpayer "bridge" to secure its grants be rescinded? If so, the taxpayers thank you. If not, shame on you.

John Hamm 7 years, 7 months ago

And, of course, there was not any possible alternative of an alternate location other than the west side of town! No support from me...... ever.

flyin_squirrel 7 years, 7 months ago

Too bad this happened before the North Lawrence Riverfront Development has gotten off the ground. That would have been a perfect location, next to downtown. You could have shopped and eaten dinner downtown, then walked over for a show.

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