The view from the back row of Starlight is about to get better.
Starlight president and CEO Richard Baker said the theater now is equipped with modular 20-by-16-foot video screens that can be positioned to improve the view from the cheap seats.
The screens are an amenity the theater has never had before. Baker said he convinced the board to spend some serious money — almost half a million dollars — to purchase and install them.
Using the screens also will involve additional costs, such as hiring people to operate high-end cameras during performances. But Baker said he hopes to convince touring companies to share that cost.
Baker was convinced screens were needed last summer after he watched Blue Man Group from several locations in the audience. The farther from the stage he sat, the more visual detail was lost, particularly the facial expressions of the performers. He could hear spectators near him laughing, but he got the sense that they were laughing because they could tell they were supposed to, not because they were responding to what was actually happening onstage.
Patrons of the Broadway series this summer have not seen the screens in action, nor will they during the current run of “Mary Poppins.” Baker said, however, there was a chance the screens will be in service during the final show of the Broadway series, “Cirque Eloize iD,” scheduled to run Sept. 8-13.
The screens are one of several major improvements Baker has pushed for since taking the job in early 2014.
Another is to convert an old rehearsal facility into a fully enclosed building to be used for classes and camps as part of Starlight’s education program. The conversion, he said, would also cost near $500,000.
“Education is so much a part of what we do,” Baker said.
Another initiative is to install a traffic light on 63rd Street at the north entrance to Swope Park, which is used by many Starlight patrons. The current standard procedure is for police officers to direct traffic either to the west or to the east, depending on which lane a patron’s car is in, as audiences exit the theater.
The board approved $200,000 to install the traffic light, and Baker hopes the cost can be shared with the Kansas City Zoo and perhaps the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. Approval from the city is pending.
Baker also plans improvements in food and beverage service. The current contract with Aramark expires at the end of the current season, and Starlight is considering bids from three vendors, including Aramark.
Aramark has the food concession at Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums, where food-service safety and quality issues arose last year. The Kansas City Health Department cited Aramark for violations at both stadiums, although some of the complaints it has received about the baseball park this year have been determined to be fraudulent.
“I think we’ve got some good options,” Baker said. “We’ve narrowed it down to three vendors.”
Quality of food service, he said, was the “No. 1 complaint on our (audience) surveys.” The complaints addressed two issues: price and quality.
Baker said there was a possibility that Starlight might not go with any of the bidding vendors and make food service an in-house operation.
“I’m committed to making Starlight better each year,” Baker said. “I’m one of those guys who’s gonna keep asking until someone says ‘No.’”