It was all good news for Kansas City Repertory Theatre this week.
On Monday, Rep and UMKC officials gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony marking the start of an extensive renovation of the Spencer Theatre, including the auditorium, stage and lobby. It will be the first major upgrade of the facility since it opened in 1979.
The Rep’s fundraising campaign to pay for the new amenities and other enhancements has so far received commitments of more than $5 million. The goal is to raise $5.5 million. Construction is scheduled to begin May 18 and is expected to be completed in time for the annual production of “A Christmas Carol” in November and December.
The overhaul is to include a new stage floor and acoustic and lighting designs, as well as 5,500-square-feet of construction that will include new restrooms, a second-floor lounge and an expanded lobby.
But the Spencer isn’t closed to the public quite yet.
“Freedom Rider,” a production of UMKC Theatre, will run through May 10 at the Spencer. Director Ricardo Khan, a founder of the Crossroads Theatre Company in New Jersey, conceived the show about idealistic young people committing themselves to the civil rights movement in 1961.
And the Rep will stage a special workshop production of “Stillwater,” a new rock musical by Nathan Tysen and directed by Eric Rosen, in the Spencer Theatre scene shop with limited seating May 13-24.
The show is set in an Oklahoma trailer park whose residents include a drug dealer, a recovering addict and an aspiring indie musician. According to the Rep’s official description, the show is “an angst-filled love letter to a generation rebounding from the economic and cultural shocks of the last 10 years.”
There was more good news on Tuesday, when Pakistani-American playwright Ayad Akhtar received a Tony nomination for the Broadway production of his pressure-cooker drama “Disgraced.” Akhtar’s absorbing and poignant dramatic comedy “The Who and the What” opened the Rep’s 2014-15 season in a production that introduced a smart, graceful playwright with a unique vision of the American experience to local theatergoers.