Walls are up, a roof is on, and now work on the inside of the new Kirkwood Performing Arts Center is taking place — at a dramatic pace. It’s nothing but good news for Jack Lane and Michael Hamilton of Stages St. Louis.
Lane, Hamilton and an entourage of other members of the Stages crew recently got to tour the inside of the facility. A preliminary look included the seating area, the stage, event spaces, a studio theatre, a striking north foyer and an upstairs crow’s nest.
The massive, 39,000-square-foot structure at 210 E. Monroe Ave. is slated to open the doors to that north lobby area this summer. Tenants will include Stages St. Louis, the Kirkwood Theatre Guild and the Kirkwood Youth Theatre program.
Both Stages and the Kirkwood Theatre Guild have contributed financially to the development of the center, which is highlighted by a 500-plus seat main theater. Executive Producer Lane said Stages St. Louis productions will be performed at the new center for the 2021 season.
“This place is amazing,” said Lane. “Our entire Stages organization is thrilled that in 2021 we will be moving into the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center and at the same time celebrating our 35th anniversary.”
Stages has come a long way – and not just distance-wise from the Robert G. Reim Theatre on South Geyer Road. The new rising space on East Monroe Avenue is transformative.
“Stages really started on the back of a napkin at a restaurant at I-44 and Big Bend,” said Lane. “I can’t even recall the name of the restaurant, but Michael and I went forward from there.
“Our first year, we were working out of Michael’s mother’s basement and building sets in her backyard,” said Lane. “We had no idea what we were getting into, but we kept going. Our first year’s budget was $50,000 and we did not break even in our first three years with Stages.”
Today, Stages St. Louis is a multi-million dollar operation with a full time staff of professionals and with a reputation that spans coast-to-coast. It recruits top talent for its productions both nationally and locally. It has produced more than 120 musicals for more than one million patrons.
“We are so indebted to our mayor and the most progressive city council in all the years that we have been here,” said Lane. “People need to know that the city did not build this new, amazing facility for us. It is going to be an entertainment center for use by so many constituencies.
“It’s also going to be a regional destination and a true catalyst for the renaissance of downtown Kirkwood,” added Lane. “It’s going to bring our city foot traffic for restaurants and shops and beneficial commercial activity.”
Hamilton said the Reim Theatre has been at capacity for many years now, bringing in about 50,000 people each season. He said the new facility will start off boosting those numbers to 60,000 or more – a boon for Kirkwood.
Lane said Stages St. Louis may also bring more activity to the area with the new studio theatre in the arts center and in creating an annual Christmas tradition in Kirkwood with the main stage.
“The smaller studio site gives us an opportunity to explore new works and challenging creative efforts,” said Lane. “It also gives us a chance to do more family theatre – think ‘AristoCats’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ This second stage provides flexibility and such an immersive and intimate setting.
“Also, the 500-plus seat main stage is perfect for starting a holiday season tradition,” added Lane. “Think of the classics – Dr. Seuss and the Grinch stealing Christmas or ‘A Christmas Carol’ or ‘A Christmas Story.’”
Hamilton and Lane were recently excited to hear that the city is working to attract a downtown hotel to Kirkwood. Imagine the Amtrak bringing in visitors on a snowy weekend for a Christmas entertainment tradition in Kirkwood. Lane emphasized there is also plenty of potential audience close to home.
“Like it or not, St. Louis is a suburban culture, not a city culture,” explained Lane.“We have tried in the past to bring theatre downtown with limited success. People here want Broadway in their own backyard. And here we are to provide it.”