Ice House

5 Reasons to Be Stoked About the New Gordy

Stages Repertory Theatre’s brand-new, $35 million home opens to the public this month.

By Gwendolyn Knapp December 27, 2019 Published in the January 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

It’s a gamechanger for Houston theater, and it has plenty of parking. The Gordy—Stages Repertory Theatre’s brand-new $35 million, 66,825-square-foot home, located near Allen Parkway and Waugh—opens to the public this month, halfway into Stages' 2019–20 season.

The new digs lie just a block away from the company’s old theater, which it occupied starting in 1985, seven years after its founding in a downtown basement. Stages, which puts on hundreds of shows each year, had outgrown that space by 2014 and was in the market for a new one. As it happened, right on the other side of the theater’s parking lot there was a storage and restoration facility for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which had a lot of potential.

“It was behind barbed wire and just kind of grungy,” says Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin. “Because, of course, they didn’t want to advertise what was in this building. We purchased the property, added to our adjacent parcel, and began this dream.”

As of now it’s a reality. Here are five reasons to get excited about this new Houston gem:

The community. When I think of the top reasons to come to the Gordy, I think community is number one,” says McLaughlin. It was the driving principle behind the design—led by Gensler and renowned London-based theater-design architects Charcoalblue, with plenty of input from patrons, actors, and staff. The result?

A mix of great things: a convenient parking garage, a pedestrian plaza, a sleek bar, concierge service in place of a box office, intimate theaters with luxurious handmade velvet seats, plenty of rehearsal space and dressing rooms, an expansive costume room with natural lighting, a scene shop complete with 3D printer, laundry and production rooms, and tons of new office and other shared space, which local nonprofits can use upon request.

Oh, and one more thing. “Everyone enters through the same front door,” says McLaughlin. “There’s no backstage door. And that was very purposeful to say, the community gathers here together.”

The capacity. The building has three theaters, which together will seat nearly 600 people, and by mid-March all will be up and running.

The 252-seat Sterling Stage is an intimate thrust-stage theater—meaning that it can move up and down—with unique tiered seating and a classic feel, inspired by The Everyman Theatre in Liverpool and the Donmar Warehouse in London. Says McLaughlin: “Comparable spaces don’t exist in the U.S.” Comedic musical The Fantasticks opens here on January 24.

The 220-seat Lester and Sue Smith Stage has more of an industrial bent, with an LED light curtain. “The idea of a simple box and the engine of art inside the box is what drove this design,” says McLaughlin. “Entire sections of the theater can easily be removed—walls on the balcony can come down to make way for a band, for instance.” Pulitzer Prize–winning drama Water by the Spoonful opens here on February 7.

Finally, the 134-seat Rochelle and Max Levit Stage is a small, flexible warehouse stage that can be configured 17 different ways, with removable seating. It’s here that the company will put on long-running, popular shows such as jukebox musical Honky Tonk Laundry, which opens on March 6.

A place to learn. The Gordy was designed with students in mind. For example, the Lester and Sue Smith Stage features tension-wire grid lighting, which will allow kids to learn what technicians do with zero chance of falling. “We’re focusing on education and community outreach,” says McLaughlin. “Since it’s very important to us, we’re taking our time, meeting with focus groups. We’re asking some big questions, because we want to do it right.”

The fun to come. Ready to celebrate? There’s a public opening and ribbon cutting on January 18, where arts lovers can pop into rehearsals, readings, and dance classes throughout the building. And while the company’s January 17 gala—featuring The Gordy’s first-ever performance, Broadway maven Chita Rivera’s one-woman show—is sold out, McLaughlin is just as amped for celebrations yet to come. Take the outdoor balcony overlooking The Gordy’s green-space. “I picture a band up here playing,” he says, “while people are on the lawn.”

It’s paid for! “We’ve raised $35.3 million, so the funds are raised, which is an incredible blessing in the arts, because it’s not a common experience. We’ve had so many people with a love for Stages.” Especially two: The building’s namesakes, Russell and Glenda Gordy, who gave $5 million.

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