Act of efficiency: Theater groups to combine resources

More than a year ago, the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company took over 821 Las Vegas Blvd. North. If everything goes according to plan, it will become a major center of activity for theater in the valley.

“We’ve rebranded the building as the Cultural Corridor Theatre Center,” said Michael Gill, president and chairman of the theater’s board of directors. “We’ve made a new foundation with the sole mission of making the building affordable for 10 or 12 nonprofits.”

The structure was built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and opened in 1963 as a church administrative building that combined a stake center and a multipurpose recreational facility.

The building was sold to the city of Las Vegas in 1970, and the city government operated out of the building while the new City Hall at 400 Stewart Ave. was under construction. It served as the Reed Whipple Cultural Center from 1972 to 2011 and was acquired by the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company in 2012.

“I’m just a volunteer, but when I came on to the board of directors, my first question was, ‘Why don’t more nonprofits work together?’ and I got strange looks,” Gill said. “It was like it was something you just don’t ask.”

The plans call for nonprofit organizations to share the space.

“With arts funding being what it is, it seemed to me if we had a building where we all shared the scene shop and the costume shop, we could have a place that would benefit many organizations,” Gill said. “I thought that if we added a restaurant and a bar, two commercial tenants to help fund ongoing maintenance of the building, and got someone to give donations to renovate the building, we’d really have something.”

Gill landed the commercial tenant he was looking for when he suggested that the owners of Rosemary’s Restaurant might be persuaded to reopen the one-time popular eatery that closed two years ago.

“That was a very selfish move on my part,” Gill said. “They were my favorite restaurant.”

Although the family members had relocated to Seattle, they have agreed to bring the restaurant back, Gill said. Plans include outdoor dining and terraced landscaping.

Another entity that plans to return to the building is the Rainbow Company Youth Theatre, which moved to the Charleston Heights Arts Center, 800 S. Brush St., two years ago.

“We’re really excited about coming back,” said Karen McKenney, the company’s artistic director. “We have a great theater here at the Charleston, but we don’t have any space to build sets or costumes. Everything is stored in portable buildings.”

When construction of the Cultural Corridor Theatre Center is complete, McKenney hopes to move the offices there but continue to stage productions at the Charleston Heights Arts Center, in addition to the renovated facility.

“Charleston has a larger stage, and it’s a beautiful theater,” McKenney said. “We’re hoping to get back to a larger, shared office. We’re all in different places here. Theater is a collaborative art.”

Gill said the plans for the building’s renovation included extending it on the north side, adjacent to the small theater where the Rainbow Company Youth Theatre formerly performed, creating a north-facing lobby dedicated to the youth theater, with offices above the lobby.

“It will be like a building within a building for them,” Gill said. “We’re also getting rid of the driveway, which was always problematic, and moving the main entrance to the south side of the building where we have our parking.”

Gill added that the Cultural Corridor Theatre Center hopes to acquire the dirt lot south of the property to expand the parking lot and avoid having a building that would block the view of the theater coming up Las Vegas Boulevard.

‘We’re going to expand the main theater out to the west and add a stage and a fly gallery, which we don’t have now,” Gill said. “We’ll have raked seating in there, with an entrance to a wall, like modern movie theaters with ramps going up either side.”

Aside from the building’s physical changes, some organizational changes are underway. The Las Vegas Shakespeare Company name will be used for free productions that the group brings to other venues. Productions at the Cultural Corridor Theatre Center will be by the newly formed Nevada Repertory Co., which will be Nevada’s first League of Resident Theatres facility.

“LORT is a group that all of the country’s best regional theaters belong to,” Gill said. “Our goal is that within 10 years to be one of the best regional theaters, on par with theaters like The Old Globe in San Diego.”

Other nonprofits associated with the Cultural Corridor Theatre Center include the Las Vegas Philharmonic, the Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre, Next Wave Opera, Las Vegas Youth Orchestras and Opportunity Village, which plans to turn the old Reed Whipple gallery into Gallery OV to showcase work by the organization’s clients.

The building is still open while $45 million is raised to complete the project. Gill said that the Cultural Corridor Theatre Center plans to shut down the building and begin renovations in the third quarter of 2014. He hopes everything will be completed by September 2015, when plans call for a joint production of the Rodgers and Hart musical “On Your Toes” performed by the Nevada Repertory Co., the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre.

“It’s a fun and kind of silly show,” Gill said. “In the second act, there’s a 10-minute ballet performed to ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.’ It was originally choreographed by George Balanchine in 1936. The Nevada Ballet has gotten permission to re-create that choreography.”

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or call 702-224-5524.

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