Stage West has grown during the pandemic. For its 43rd season, the Fort Worth theater is returning to live performances with a slate of seven shows, three of which will be performed in the new Evelyn Wheeler Swenson Theatre. The renovations don’t stop there: the Jerry Russell Theatre has been renovated in time for the October start of the season.
When the pandemic forced arts organizations to close in March 2020, Stage West’s production of The Children by Lucy Kirkwood had only been onstage for one week. The 2021-2022 season fulfills its obligations to the artistic community.
“When the pandemic struck, we had three plays remaining in that season - all were postponed - and we were days away from announcing a new season with seven more plays. As a result, we had a well of fantastic plays for which we had already paid the rights. When it came time to plan the upcoming reopening season, we looked at this set of plays and said, ‘We like all of these plays. We selected them all for a reason. We have paid for them. Let's produce them and produce them with the teams we'd already hired to create them before the floor fell out on everyone.’ In this way, we are doing our best to stay fiscally responsible while also holding true to the agreements made within the theatre community. That said, three of them hadn't been cast or had creative teams assembled. That means we get to bring even more people to the theatre for work,” Dana Schultes, Stage West’s executive producer, said.
The development of the new theater space has been in the works for a decade. “Back in 2011, our footprint on Vickery Blvd doubled when the neighboring business moved out. We negotiated a lease to take on that space for offices and a scene shop. By 2012, we realized we had enough additional space for a second theatre. With a small seed grant from the Amon G. Carter Foundation, we tested the idea out with a temporary thrust stage. At that point, the space sat under 60 and had a drop ceiling. Once it was clear we could make something really special out of it, we started a campaign to raise the money to make it into a fully operational flexible space. It'll be used for our own programming - both main stage and educational - as well as rentals. Perhaps closest to my heart is making it available to other groups, especially smaller groups, who need access to hone their crafts. Nurturing up-and-coming artists and artistic groups in the area is a major goal of mine,” Schultes said.
The Russell Theatre seats 144 and the new Evelyn Wheeler Swenson Theatre seats 210, allowing Stage West to stretch itself artistically. “Essentially, this gives us - and the community - many creative space options. We also invested in new equipment - much of our lighting was pre-1990 before - and that will help the artistic bar to rise,” Schultes said.
The pandemic allowed the theater to focus on its mission and reevaluate its business practices to make sure it aligns with the company’s commitment to diversity. “We are more aware of our mission. Our long-held drive for EDI [equity, diversity and inclusion] has accelerated. It has a brighter spotlight than ever before and that increases the urgency,” Schultes said.
The pandemic also made renovations easier. “The fact that we had been saving and campaigning for several years to do these renovations and then BAM! the world shuts down. Well, frankly, those dark months made a lot of renovation progress possible. We are lucky. When you start tearing up a nearly 100-year-old building, lots of structural secrets come out. There is no way we could have accomplished what we did if we were having to do regular productions concurrently,” Schultes said.
As the theater puts the finishing touches on the renovation, including changing the signage on the front of the building, Schultes is eager to show off the theater’s hard work. “It's a whole new Stage West facility people will be encountering. We will learn how to use it while throwing our arms open to welcome people back,” Schultes said.
Stage West’s 2021-2022 Season
The season begins with the regional premiere of JQA by Aaron Posner. John Quincy Adams lived his life backward: brilliant diplomat in his youth, fervent congressman as a man, ineffectual president in his prime. This unique and timely play imagines a kaleidoscope of confrontations between JQA and some of his key contemporaries. At once provocative and patriotic, this power play challenges the way we think of our country and shines a curious spotlight on the American experiment as it continues to evolve. The show will run in the Swenson Theatre October 7 – 31.
Stage West’s holiday offering is Scrooge in Rouge, an English Music Hall Christmas Carol with book and lyrics by Ricky Graham; additional material by Jeffery Roberson; other interesting bits by Yvette Hargis; and original music composed by Jefferson Turner
The Royal Music Hall Variety Players' production of A Christmas Carol is in a pickle after twenty members of the company suddenly fall ill. This leaves the three remaining members to plow on (so to speak) through a musical performance of the Dickens classic. Expect missed cues, unfamiliar characters, and costume mishaps aplenty. With cheeky puns and bawdy songs, this quick-change, cross-dressing version of the Christmas tale is a hilarious holiday treat! The regional premiere will run in the Russell Theatre from December 2 – 24.
The new year begins with the regional premiere of Church & State by Jason Odell Williams. Three days before his bid for re-election - in the wake of another school shooting - a U.S. Senator has a life-altering crisis of faith, triggering an off-the-cuff comment which sends the entire campaign into a tailspin. His wife and campaign manager try to contain the damage, but in a country where religion influences politics and politics have become a religion, how do you reach the people and stay true to yourself? A timely and fast-paced story that is simultaneously funny, heartbreaking, and uplifting. The show will run in the Russell Theatre from January 27 – February 20.
The season continues with the regional premiere of On the Exhale by Martin Zimmerman. When a senseless act of violence changes her life forever, a college professor finds herself inexplicably drawn to the very weapon used to perpetrate the crime - and to the irresistible feeling of power that comes from holding life and death in her hands. Peering down the barrel of a uniquely American crisis, this perspective-bending, one-woman tour de force intimately examines our collective grief over a national epidemic that we all want to end. The show will run in the Swenson Theatre from February 3 – 20.
Jen Silverman’s Witch is next. Mischief lurks in the sleepy village of Edmonton, as a slick young devil arrives in search of a few fresh souls. As the townsfolk reveal their deepest secrets and desires, bargains are struck, tables are turned, and an outcast woman living at the edge of the village proves to be much more than she seems. This inventive and fiendishly funny tale reminds you to be careful what you wish for. This regional premiere will run in the Russell Theatre from March 17 – April 10.
Stage West’s summer begins with the regional premiere of Into the Breeches! by George Brant. It’s 1942, and there’s a problem at Oberon Playhouse - with the director and leading men all off at war, it looks like the season will be canceled. That is until a determined and passionate group of ladies rally the troops at home and set out to put on an all-female production of Shakespeare’s Henry V. An increasingly unexpected team is assembled, with a hilariously desperate array of thoughts and ideas, but united in desire. This delightful and moving backstage comedy examines the power of art to bring us together, even in the hardest of times. The show will be presented in the Swenson Theatre from June 9 – July 3.
Stage West’s 2021-2022 season concludes with the Pulitzer Prize winner, Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly-Guirgis. Irrepressible ex-cop and recent widower Walter Washington is under a lot of pressure. He’s in an ongoing legal battle, clinging desperately to grievances from the past. Barely holding on to the palatial rent-controlled Manhattan apartment that he shares with his newly paroled son and a ragtag surrogate family who call him “Pops”, he is not ready to accept payout or surrender. But as tensions come to a head in a swirl of demands from family and friends, a final ultimatum from former NYPD colleagues causes “Pops” to draw the line and make some demands of his own. The show will run in the Russell Theatre from August 18 – September 11.
Season tickets are on sale now with packages ranging from $136 - $351
Learn more: https://stagewest.org/