Starlight Stories: The 2010s
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 were confirmed in 2013 when the International Association of Venue Managers (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’s impact was recognized locally, too, when the City Council of Kansas City declared May 2, 2016, as “KC Loves Starlight Day.” The civic announcement recognized Starlight as a cultural powerhouse in its 66th season of operation, a year in which Starlight hosted eight award-winning Broadway musicals and nearly 30 big-name concerts for Kansas City residents and visitors.
Starlight Goes Indoors
During this decade, Starlight expanded its performance calendar beyond the traditional summer months. A 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 off-season productions, but costs and logistics involved with presenting shows off-site prompted a re-evaluation of the plan for the future.
A new plan for how to present shows on a year-round basis began almost immediately after 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 indoor, on-site shows! A successful trial run with 50 Shades! The Musical Parody presented inside Starlight’s stage house in February 2015 led to expanded programming of Off-Broadway comedies and parodies in the new Starlight Indoors series, which officially launched in January 2016. Then, in 2018, new risers were purchased and installed, providing 400+ comfortable, spacious seats and unobstructed views for indoor audiences.
Education Programs Expand
Starlight’s commitment to children and performing arts education continued to grow in the 2010s. Camps added early in the decade, including Frosty Fun Days, Spring Break Camp and Camp Take-a-Bow, kept kids engaged as they developed performance skills. While camps ended after 2018, well-established programs such as the Starlight Stars, Starlight Stars of Tomorrow and the nationally respected Blue Star Awards continue to thrive.
The growing importance of Starlight’s education programs even prompted a new construction project. Atop the site of the former open-air Director’s Pavilion, which served as Starlight’s rehearsal space until 2006, sits a new 2,700-square-foot Education Pavilion. The fully enclosed and climate-controlled building now provides dedicated space for education programs and activities.
Screens and Fans Make Their Debut
The venue itself continued to evolve with new additions to enhance audience experience. In 2015, large LED screens were installed on both sides of the stage, and in 2017 Starlight began streaming its Broadway productions on these big screens, giving patrons close-up views of actors on stage. Other additions included a new sound system, non-invasive security magnetometers, ADA enhancements to parking lots and theatre walkways, and cushioned seats in Producer’s Circle.
The most visible construction project of the decade stemmed directly from audience feedback that summer heat was dampening their enjoyment of Starlight nights. Starlight chose to invest more than $600,000 to install four mega-fans in the seating bowl in time for the 2018 season. These ultra-quiet fans stand 35 feet tall and create a breeze of about 4 mph throughout the seating bowl to keep the audience cool.
The Beginning of a New Decade
As a new decade dawned, so did an unprecedented pandemic that put a halt to an entire season and seriously limited the next one. Starlight continues to recover and rebuild programs for live entertainment.
A new capital campaign launched in 2023 will enhance the Starlight tradition and extend it to new, diverse participants of all ages.
In 2025, Starlight will celebrate it’s 75th anniversary and even though patrons’ behaviors have changed perhaps permanently, the future is bright for new generations of Kansas City to be entertained, inspired, and engaged at Starlight.