Starlight wants to raise $40 million to 'get more people to great theater and music'
If fully funded, the campaign will make capital improvements across the entire Starlight campus — including the construction of a production truss and light bridge and a seating canopy that will shade approximately 3,200 seats to allow for summer Broadway matinees.
In a statement, Lindsey Rood-Clifford, Starlight president and CEO, announced that the campaign has already raised $21.6 million in donations from the Sunderland Foundation; the City of Kansas City, Missouri; the Hall Family Foundation, the State of Missouri, the William T. Kemper Foundation and the Morgan Charitable Foundation.
“For more than 70 years, Starlight has provided live performing arts experiences for all at a historic landmark in one of the largest municipal parks in the United States,” Rood-Clifford said in the announcement. “Through this campaign, we want to not only improve the Starlight experience for our current patrons, but extend the tradition to new, diverse participants of all ages — fostering a shared accessible home for performing arts.”
Rood-Clifford said the changes will include a new production truss and light bridge that will boost the lighting capabilities, allowing Starlight to book a wider variety of professional shows.
“Right now, all of the front lighting for the theater comes from the historic light bridge at the back of the house, which is very difficult to light,” Rood-Clifford said. “There are some shows that choose not to come here (to Kansas City) because they have to redesign their lighting.”
A planned new seating canopy will provide shade to approximately 3,200 seats to allow for summer Broadway matinees.
Rood-Clifford said the canopy structure allows Starlight to expand programming into the afternoon hours.
"National Broadway tours, everywhere else in the world they're doing eight shows, because that includes six evening performances and two matinees,” Rood-Clifford said. "When they come to Starlight, even though we are paying for eight shows, we're only actually presenting six because, in its current state, I don't think anyone wants to sit outside at Starlight at 2:00 p.m. in July.”
Starlight opened as a theater in 1950. It is the largest and oldest continually operating performing arts organization in Kansas City.
“We applaud organizations like Starlight that foster a vibrant Kansas City,” said Kent Sunderland, chairman of the Sunderland Foundation, in the statement. “These capital projects will not only improve Starlight’s iconic venue; they will address needed improvements to welcome new audiences, increase access to the arts to underrepresented populations, and bolster the economy.”
There are also plans to renovate the restrooms to increase capacity and include nursing rooms and publicly accessible family restrooms. Starlight’s kitchen will be renovated to upgrade food and beverage services.
Starlight’s construction projects are planned for two phases. Phase 1 is slated to begin in the fall of 2024 and be completed by the spring of 2025. Phase 2 is slated to begin in the fall of 2025 with an anticipated completion date of April 2026. Development partners include GastingerWalker& and JE Dunn Construction.
The campaign proposes to help launch five new community programs, designed to fill gaps in arts programming across Kansas City. One will include a free residency program for elementary schools to produce their first musical; a performance series for young audiences and families; a technical theater training program for students and expansion of Starlight’s existing community tickets program to reduce barriers to participation.
“It’s been almost 20 years since Starlight’s last major capital campaign and now is the time to look ahead and support this institution for generations to come,” Howard Cohen, President of Starlight’s Board of Directors, said in the release.
According to the release, the campaign’s three major objectives are to and expand live arts experiences, create more education and community access opportunities and enhance the guest experience through venue improvements.
"For me, it's about the opportunity to start to get more people to great theater and music," Rood-Clifford said. "It's about creating more opportunities, particularly in a post-pandemic environment, to get more families out here, kids, grandkids to be able to come to shows."