2013 Phoenix Awards: Theatre Lawrence, a dream come true

2013 Phoenix Awards

This is the last in a series of five stories highlighting winners of this year’s Phoenix Awards. Watch the Journal-World’s A&E section for profiles on the other awardees.

The Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission bestows the awards annually to local artists and art supporters. The public is invited to a free reception recognizing the winners at 2 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

To those who need proof of the significance of performing arts in the Lawrence community: reach out to the more than 700 donors who made the new Theatre Lawrence facility possible.

“There were people in the community who weren’t believers that this could happen, and to raise that kind of money is just phenomenal,” says Fred DeVicor, the theater’s board president, of the $7.2 million community effort.

Theatre Lawrence is the recipient of the 2013 Phoenix Award for “Creative Spaces.” This 36-year-old organization, formerly known as Lawrence Community Theatre, previously occupied a small converted church on 1501 New Hampshire that had virtually no parking and had to turn children away for their youth programs because they lacked the space. Now on the Bauer Farm, the theatre is a new arts facility that can support educational programs and accommodate theatrical arts lovers from all over the region.

“From major benefactors like Tensie Oldfather to children with piggy banks and sacks of quarters brought to reality this beautiful new facility that will provide a boost for the city’s cultural and economic efforts. It has already begun attracting participants and audiences from across the region,” says theater volunteer Bob Newton, who nominated the building for the Phoenix Award.

Hortense “Tensie” Oldfather and Mabel A. Woodyard each donated $1 million, the most generous gifts the theater received.

Opening in June of this year, productions of award-winning musicals “Ragtime” and “Footloose” have already brought in new actors and actresses to auditions and as a result, new crowds from the community. “Shrek” will be this year’s family holiday show, which is already in the rehearsal process, and opening Dec. 6. More than 100 people auditioned for “Shrek,” the biggest turn out they’ve had for auditions so far.

“We made the dream come true, and we’ve reached a lot of new people” DeVictor says.

“We are in a higher visibility in this area. We’ve had some fantastic voices and great talent.”

Some of this great talent is coming from neighboring building Lawrence Free State High school, which DeVictor says is giving performing arts experience to youth groups.

“And that’s part of what we’re all about as well,” he says.

DeVictor is most excited for the educational opportunities this new venue has the potential to support with their new education wing, located on the basement floor.

Youth Education Director Hailey Gillespie heads several workshop programs including those that benefit at-risk children and families in need, partnering with the Lawrence/Douglas County Housing Authority, Willow Domestic Violence and the Boys and Girls Club. They already have waiting lists on different summer programs, DeVictor says.

Theatre Lawrence is devoted to theatrical arts for all ages, making sure older patrons can enjoy the experience fully with their state-of-the-art “loop system” for the hearing impaired that allows modern hearing aids to receive the stage audio directly. It’s one of three venues that offers this in Kansas.

The board thinks of Theatre Lawrence as a new destination spot for people all over the region, DeVictor says. The sky is limit for what they can now bring to the community.

“I know it’s a career dream for Executive Director Mary Doveton and it’s happened,” DeVictor says. “It shows support for the arts in Lawrence. Overwhelming support.”

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