Celebrating our 65th Year: Starlight in the 2010s

CATEGORY: Starlight

In issues of “On The Spot” in 2015, we have shared selected highlights from each decade of Starlight Theatre. This is the final installment of the series. We hope you have enjoyed the look back at our theatre’s history and are ready to be part of our 66th year!

The flurry of capital construction that defined much of the 2000s at Starlight Theatre (new stage, restrooms, concessions, indoor rehearsal spaces and more) set the stage for an international honor and program expansion in the 2010s.

While Kansas Citians have long considered Starlight a world-class venue, their beliefs became fact in 2013. That’s when the world’s largest professional association dedicated to the management of public assembly venues, the International Association of Venue Manager (IAVM), awarded Starlight its prestigious Venue Excellence Award.

The 2013 award essentially declared Starlight “the best of the best” among performing arts venues worldwide, giving it high marks on criteria including service to the community, team building/ professional development, safety, security and operational excellence. Starlight shone particularly bright in its outreach to the community and commitment to education.

That commitment to performing arts education continues to grow. Interest and participation in Starlight’s established education programs are high. Now in its 14th year, Starlight’s Blue Star Awards for area high school musical theatre students is one of the largest and most respected programs in the nation. A record 52 high schools and 5,000+ students are on board for 2015-16. And, new camps added earlier this decade, including Frosty Fun Days, Spring Break Camp and Camp Take-a-Bow, are keeping kids active and entertained as they develop performance skills.

The growing importance of Starlight’s education programs and the number of children and young adults enrolled prompted a new construction project this fall. Atop the site of the former Director’s Pavilion that served as Starlight’s rehearsal space until 2006, we are building a new 2,700-square-foot Education Pavilion. The fully enclosed and climate-controlled building will provide dedicated space for education programs and activities year-round.

During the current decade, Starlight has also expanded its performance calendar beyond the traditional summer months. Our first foray into “off-season” programming came in 2012 with the introduction of Starlight Children’s Theatre at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Crowd response was positive for Starlight’s productions of Disney Aladdin and Narnia The Musical in early 2012, followed by Flat Stanley and Peter Cottontail III in 2013. Costs and logistics involved with presenting shows off-site, however, prompted a re-evaluation of the plan for the future.

The plan for how to present shows on more of a year-round basis began almost immediately when Rich Baker joined Starlight as president and CEO in early 2014. Having led the Fox Theatre in St. Louis for many years, Baker brought fresh ideas and approaches to his new role. Among them was the introduction of shows indoors on-site! A successful trial run with 50 Shades! The Musical Parody presented inside our Cohen Community Stage House in February 2015 led to the programming of four Off-Broadway comedies and parodies for the new Starlight Indoors series in 2016.

Other additions that have enhanced the Starlight experience in recent years include a new sound system in 2014, new large LED screens flanking the stage in 2015, and vibrant landscaping throughout the venue. Such improvements and more to come are intended to solidify Starlight’s stature as “the best of the best” place in Kansas City (and the Midwest!) to see a live Broadway musical and listen to your favorite concert artist.

And, speaking of concert artists, Starlight has hosted a lot of them in the 2010s. In fact, certain performers like the Starlight venue and audiences so much that they actually ask to return on a regular basis. Among these musical super fans are STYX, The Fray, REO Speedwagon and Earth Wind & Fire.

As the book closes on 2015, Starlight’s Board of Directors, executives, staff, volunteers, sponsors, partners, teaching artists and vendors are gearing up for the next 65 years. We look forward to having our generous donors, avid audiences and aspiring young artists with us every step of the way!