AP NEWS

Omaha theatre set to open massive youth theatre academy

June 30, 2019

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — There’s more interest in classes for kids at the Rose Theater than there is room to accommodate them.

The theater’s education program has grown nearly 10 times bigger over 10 years, said Kori Radloff, Rose marketing and public relations director. More than 800 students were enrolled in about 150 classes and camps in the 2018-19 season.

Rose leaders knew the education program either had to stop growing or find a bigger space.

The solution: They recently signed an 11-year-plus lease on a 27,000-square-foot space in the former Gordmans building, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The space will become The Rose Studios for Youth Artists in March of next year.

“It’s really perfect for us,” said Julie Walker, the theater’s managing director.

Arts education has become a big deal for a number of organizations around the metro area as parents search for meaningful after-school and summer activities for their kids.

Omaha Performing Arts is looking to eventually construct a building on land next to the Holland Center, and officials have said in the past that they were interested in expanding classroom space. The Omaha Community Playhouse restructured its education department in 2016 and renamed it The Henry Fonda Theatre Academy in honor of the legendary Omaha-born actor.

The Omaha Academy of Ballet moved into a bigger space on high-profile 72nd Street a couple of years ago, not long after the large Omaha Conservatory of Music opened on Cass Street. And groups will hold classes at the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center in Council Bluffs when it opens next year.

Rose staffers are working on a renovation plan for the West Center Road building, and construction will begin soon. An industry expert said he thinks it will be one of the biggest facilities of its kind in the country.

“We are completely gutting the inside,” Radloff said.

It now is basically a large open space rimmed by cubicles, but eventually it will hold:

— Four classrooms dedicated to acting classes and private and group voice lessons, all with professional keyboards.

— Five full-size studios on the main floor. Features will include floor-to-ceiling mirrors, sprung floors, ballet barres and high-end sound equipment.

— A separate studio for “Art of Theater Design” classes for students from age 9 up, dealing with sets, costumes, props and, eventually, lighting and sound.

— A full-size rehearsal studio on the lower level.

— A 200-seat performance hall for student productions, mini-recitals, concerts and large classes.

— A public lobby and waiting area for parents and a 100-seat break room for students, including cubbies and coat hooks.

The building, owned by Speedway Properties in Lincoln, had been the corporate headquarters for Gordmans until about 2013, after which it sat vacant for a few years, said Jeanette Weber of Investors Realty, the real estate agent who is handling the transaction. Weber also is a member of the Rose Board of Trustees.

Heafey Hoffmann Dworak & Cutler Mortuary turned a smaller space on the west side of the building into a temporary funeral home after a fire a couple of years ago but vacated the space when its location at 78th Street and West Center Road was rebuilt. The Douglas County Election Commission will now move into that space.

Weber said Speedway gave the Rose a deal on the rent and the Rose is paying for improvements to the structure.

A capital campaign to raise funds for the remodeling project is in the works, said Vic Gutman, an Omaha marketing consultant who is coordinating the effort. He said the goal has not yet been set but he expected it to be between $1.5 and $1.75 million.

He hopes to obtain the funds from only three or four donors and said his goal is to wrap up the campaign by the end of 2019 or early 2020.

When the center opens, the Rose also will continue to offer classes at its theater downtown at 20th and Farnam Streets. Classes that had been conducted for several years in bays at Bel Air Plaza will be moved across to the new building when it opens. Radloff said the Rose probably would have to hire more instructors as everything shakes out.

There also could be the potential for other groups to rent space in the new building, but Rose leaders don’t plan on that for now.

“This is really for student performers to get their first opportunities onstage,” Radloff said. “This is very much our mission. We’re all about the kids and helping them appreciate theater in all its forms.”

The new center will be among the largest at any children’s theater in the country, said Jonathan Shmidt Chapman, executive director of Theatre for Young Audiences/USA, an umbrella group for theaters serving young people.

“This type of growth sends a strong message to the local community as well as the national theater field about the vital role that the arts can play in the lives of young people,” Chapman said.

Rose artistic director Matthew Gutschick said The Rose Studios for Youth Artists will result in additional opportunities for young people in Omaha theater. Kids who have participated in Rose education programs show up at venues across the city and play an integral role in every Rose production. The theater’s current show, “Matilda the Musical,” showcases the intense instruction they receive in voice, dance and acting.

“Our city will have a world-class facility dedicated solely to the development of youth theater artists. This is a game-changer in theater education,” Gutschick said.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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