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Stages At The Gordy Debuts Its $35.8 Million Campus In Houston

Envisioned as a community hub as well as a new, three-theater complex, the $35.8 million campus for Stages at The Gordy has opened in Houston.

The new venue is located across the street from the performing arts organization’s previous two-stage home in a historic building just west of downtown on Allen Parkway.

Privately funded by a groundswell of patrons, many of them first-time arts supporters, the project incorporated an existing, re-imagined 40,000-square-foot warehouse and a purpose-built addition.

The 608-seat new facility is ready to play a role in the city’s “cultural ecosystem” as well as in its redeveloping neighborhood, speakers noted at the campus’ recent opening event.

Stages managing director Mark Folkes said the completed project addresses the city’s need for quality space and technical resources that support the city’s middle-tier of theater organizations.

Staging the site

A preview tour showcased the venue’s expanded performance and rehearsal space; function-specific production facilities — meaning scenery, props and costumes; administrative workspace; community-accessible spaces for collaboration and outreach; and 300-space parking structure linked to the theater building by a covered walkway.

Natural light infiltrates the 66,850-square-foot building’s non-performance areas. The double-height lobby — with full-service bar – was designed for general use by the adjacent community. Ditto the grassy plaza that sets off the entry and doubles as event space.

And, as any theater-goer can appreciate, there’s an abundance of restrooms: 56 stalls.

Role Call

The project was tasked with transforming the theater experience “from curb-to-curtain” while also playing a role in connecting the adjacent community, speakers said at the event.

“Our new campus is a part of the transformation happening along the Allen Parkway/Buffalo Bayou corridor,” said George Lancaster, board chairman, following the tour. “Ultimately, a better arts community makes for better quality of life and a better economy.”

With its new venue now open, he said, Stages’ efforts can shift from construction to programming — and further engaging audiences and the community.

Stages’ project team was led by Gensler’s Houston office, with theater consultant Charcoalblue, construction management by Forney Construction and engineering by Walter P. Moore.

Theater-going has become a more accessible, inclusive exercise so venue design and programming is reflecting that shift, said John Owens, Charcoalblue partner. The Gordy is one of the first U.S. projects for the London-based firm.

Gensler’s project manager, O’Neal Furr, said integration of community engagement and education programs into venues is an established trend and increasingly important as theaters encourage the next generation of theater-goers “to break away from their screens and truly engage with each other via the theater arts experience.”

In designing a new home for the 41-year-old organization, Gensler’s challenge was to retain the hallmark intimacy of the previous space while increasing connectivity between elements, to improve accessibility and efficiencies, and to incorporate state-of-the-art technical capacity, said Jonathan Shelledy, project architect.

Specifics of the minimalist venue include the 251-seat thrust Sterling Stage; 223-seat Lester and Sue Smith arena stage; and 134-seat Rochelle and Max Levit Stage. The latter is the most flexible venue in terms of possible configurations and could accommodate a show that exceeds its scheduled run, a Stages spokeswoman said on the tour.

Meanwhile, the organization’s former building, known as the Star Engraving Building, is slated for redevelopment.

As part of The Gordy’s launch, the organization’s name becomes simply Stages, an update of Stages Repertory Theatre. Founded in 1978, the Equity organization typically produces a dozen shows a year.

Stages is Houston’s third largest theater organization in Houston and the largest outside of downtown. It purchased its former venue in 2014, having leased theater and production space there since 1985.

In 2016, Stages’ board ratified a five-year strategic plan that included facilities improvement as well as expanded artistic, education and community engagement.

And then a neighboring warehouse became available. That opportunity triggered a project well beyond wishes for new seats, carpeting and parking, project sources said at the preview.

Theater projects take a long time to incubate, Owens said, but can move quickly when the underlying factors align, as it happened in this case.

Stages’ Folkes said the project’s funding from private sources was especially notable because new patrons stepped forward, broadening support for the city’s arts and culture.

The Gordy’s name recognizes lead donors Glenda and Russell Gordy. Major contributors included Sterling-Turner Foundation/Bert Winston and T.R. Reckling Families, Lester and Sue Smith, and Rochelle and Max Levit as well as Houston Endowment, The Brown Foundation and The Wortham Foundation. The capital campaign earned the 2019 National Philanthropy Day Outstanding Fundraising Program.

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