Forty years after it was born in the basement of a downtown brewery, Stages Repertory Theatre revealed plans for a 66,825-square-foot, three-theater complex set to break ground next summer.
A $30.5 million capital campaign will pay for the new digs, put over the top by a $5 million matching pledge from oil tycoon Russell Gordy and his wife, Glenda. That princely sum bought the family naming rights for the complex, which will be known as The Gordy.
Stages' new home will include a soon-to-be-renovated warehouse acquired from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston just down the street from the theater's current location. Three performance spaces—one 253-seat thrust stage, one 227-seat arena stage, and one flexible warehouse stage—will be the centerpiece of the new facility, but there will also be rehearsal studios, production shops, offices, event space, green space, and, of course, the all-important parking garage.
Press materials describe the project as a "campus," expressing a desire to make Stages a collaborative, multi-use space whose purpose extends beyond a traditional show. "We want to, rather, create a dynamic gathering space, where there can be post-performance open mic cabaret," Managing Director Mark Folkes told the Houston Chronicle.
The company plans to unload its current facility in the historic Star Engraving Building, with the theater currently "in discussions with a buyer." Move-in for The Gordy is currently scheduled for the 2019–2020 season.
“We are building the kinds of spaces that don’t currently exist anywhere in our region," said Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin in a statement. "Our focus from the beginning has been to enhance what we know defines us—the incredible intimacy that our patrons and artists love—and to dramatically expand our technical, design and production capacities to elevate that experience to new heights.”
This announcement means McLaughlin's company lucked out twice: first, when Russell and Glenda Gordy's Kingwood neighbors convinced them to go to a Stages show in the 1970s, and, more recently, when the theater was spared from Harvey's floods.
The less fortunate downtown arts companies—the ones rattled worst by the hurricane—are doing some hand wringing and soul searching as they pick up the pieces of their waterlogged seasons. And a tough funding climate poses an existential threat to small organizations like Mildred's Umbrella and 4th Wall Theatre Company, which just last week announced a generous (if comparitively modest) donation to resurrect the company at the last moment. A $30 million capital campaign at Stages injects some welcome stability into a shaky arts scene.
Additionally, it's worth noting how the theater complex adds to the Gordy family's considerable investment in the surrounding area. Russell Gordy and his two sons opened what may be the world's fanciest gun store across the Bayou from Stages this summer. And that fancy urban H-E-B concept going up on Washington Avenue? That's a Gordy-backed project, too.
With the Gordy family apparently investing in "things Houston loves" one-by-one, it's really only a matter of time before they bankroll condos for the ailing Waugh Drive bat colony.