Kansas City Repertory Theatre to update its UMKC home for the first time since 1979

06/06/2014 1:00 PM

06/07/2014 2:40 PM

The Hall Family Foundation has pledged a $3 million lead gift in Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s campaign to renovate the 600-seat Spencer Theatre and the lobby of the James C. Olson Performing Arts Center.

The Olson PAC is home to the Rep, the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory and the UMKC theater department. The building houses administrative offices, rehearsal studios, classrooms, music and sound production facilities, and shops for constructing scenery and costumes. The Rep has performed at the Spencer since the PAC opened in 1979.

In addition to the $3 million pledged to the Rep, the Hall Family Foundation is donating $2 million to the theater department for scholarships.

The goal of the fundraising campaign, which coincides with the theater company’s 50th anniversary, is $5 million, which must be reached by Dec. 31. Plans call for reconstruction to begin in the summer of 2015 and to be completed in time for the Rep’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” in December of that year.

Preliminary plans call for upgrades to the theater and an expanded lobby with enhanced amenities for the public.

“We are in the middle of the planning phase for what exactly we’ll be able to achieve,” executive director Angela Gieras said. “We know there will be substantial improvements made to the interior of the audience chamber as well as the lobby.”

Gieras said the next step will be in-depth planning to determine how much of what the theater leadership wants to accomplish will be possible on a $5 million budget. The only previous upgrades during the Rep’s 35-year tenure in the building came under then-artistic director Peter Altman, who replaced the seats in the Spencer and gave the theater walls a new coat of paint.

“This will be the first major renovation since 1979,” Gieras said.

Artistic director Eric Rosen said the plans as envisioned would build on a solid foundation.

“It’s like remodeling rather than rebuilding a house,” Rosen said. “The bones of the theater aren’t going to change because we think the bones are pretty great.”

Plans do call for upgrades to the Spencer acoustics as well as the electrical system and equipment.

Rosen said if plans for an expanded lobby and changes to the building facade can be achieved, it would make the theatergoing experience at the Rep something new. Early plans call for a coffee shop, lounge, bookstore and special areas designated for pre- and post-performance public discussions.

“It will really make the place more inviting and high-functioning,” Rosen said.

The general goal, he said, is to make the PAC look like something other than what it is: a 1979 college-campus building.

“We don’t compete with the Kauffman Center, but it’s certainly a lot nicer to go to the Kauffman than it is to the Rep,” he said. “Across the board, we’re going to make the Rep feel like it feels onstage.”

Gieras said that the Hall Family Foundation gift leaves little doubt that the Rep will achieve its goal.

“We feel very confident that we will be able to achieve the $5 million by Dec. 31,” she said.

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