Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Renovation of downtown Kilgore landmarks possible
City leaders have intimated the possibility of turning the west Kilgore Street block into an entertainment district with wide sidewalks for music acts and more.
KILGORE As professional actors and directors prepare for the Texas Shakespeare Festival’s 27th season, municipal leaders are discussing whether the festival has a place in downtown Kilgore.
“It would bring a maximum number of residents and tourists to downtown Kilgore, which would provide an economic boost to downtown Kilgore, which would be fantastic,” city Main Street Manager Clara Chaffin said, “but it would also showcase what we have.”
Beyond the hopes of more cash registers ringing, there are other advantages not lost on Texas Shakespeare Festival Founder and Artistic Director Raymond Caldwell. Having a venue downtown and off the Kilgore College campus could open the door to year-round productions and a true box office for the annual festival that attracts patrons regionally and internationally.
“I don’t know a whole lot about it [the city’s plan]. I know that the City of Kilgore, which owns the Crim and Texan theaters downtown, has been interested for a long time in renovating those two historic buildings to put to some good use,” Caldwell said.
Several plans hinge on the Crim and Texan, two theaters on the same west Kilgore Street block just across Main Street from the dozens of renovated storefronts, restaurants, offices and loft homes that have garnered mounds of recent publicity for the city’s downtown area. City leaders have intimated the possibility of turning the west Kilgore Street block into an entertainment district with wide sidewalks for music acts and more.
Both theaters, however, are dilapidated. The Crim sustained its last roof repair about fifteen years ago, and the most recent building assessments are from 2008. City maintenance crews brought the theaters to usable condition temporarily on May 7 when a political forum was held at the facilities.
“We know that for the Crim, for example, to get it to a point where it is occupied again, that’s $1 million. To restore it to the way it was, it would cost up to $4 million,” Chaffin said. “We are renovating; we cannot afford to restore. If we spend $4 million, we might as well flatten it.”
Costs for renovating the Texan could run as much as $2 million, she added. “It would be fantastic to spend $2 million for both,” Chaffin said. “We want these buildings used and occupied because they don’t have to be as they were in their heyday.”
Chaffin and City Manager Scott Sellers have asked Caldwell to meet with municipal volunteers to discuss the possibility of moving Texas Shakespeare Festival activities downtown. “Releasing a plan to the community might get the ball rolling on raising funds to renovate the theaters,” Caldwell said. Therefore, Caldwell is drawing up a proposal for how the Crim and/or Texan could be used by the festival, and he plans to present his findings to the Kilgore City Council this month.
For now, the Crim theater is an empty brick-and-mortar shell, Caldwell told us. There are leaks, and he remembers water on the floor during his last visit, but “The shell is sturdy,” he said.
“From my point of view, I think the festival could use the facility certainly as office space and for some performances, if it is renovated correctly and used as a live theater performance venue and not as a movie theater,” Caldwell said, “and there is a difference.” Caldwell does not want to be independent of Kilgore College, which has supported the Texas Shakespeare Festival since its inception with funding plus in-kind services such as office space, insurance, maintenance, janitorial service and more. He does envision, however, an off-campus facility where productions such as the Daisy Bradford No. 3 could be held during the autumn, winter and spring months when the college is in full session.
What makes summer the best time to host the festival is the lack of college students living on campus, making dormitories available for professional actors and others, “Which is why we have such a short season,” he acknowledged.
“If we were able to use any place else, such as the Crim or the Texan, as a performance place, it is possible we could mount one or two productions in the fall, winter or spring, provided there is money to pay the actors, which is a huge thing,” Caldwell said. “The other step in that daydream process might be revising a proposal I made to the college several years ago: a conservatory.”
“No performing arts conservatory exists in Texas or even in the South,” Caldwell said. Several years ago, he proposed that Kilgore College open such a conservatory to train young people interested in obtaining a two-year certification to act for the stage, for movies, television or dance. Money remains the obstacle, but he believes it could attract as many as 60 enrollees for each four-month training period, especially if the college offered scholarships.
“If we had a performing arts conservatory, it would definitely generate revenue for the city because you would have plays year-round,” Caldwell said. “That’s a daydream, too, and it’s a complex issue and program that would take some careful work from people with the college as well as outside the college … I think there is a market for that. I can’t promise that, but I think there is.”
Chaffin sees the opportunity as more than another feather in downtown Kilgore’s cap. Simply put, she wants to see every downtown parking spot filled every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.
“Imagine being able to come downtown Friday evening after work, do a little shopping, go to a restaurant, eat a nice meal and take in a Shakespearean play, or maybe another type of play, or the high school orchestra, or whatever,” Chaffin said, “then coming back downtown, enjoying a glass of wine and walking downtown or underneath the derricks in the cool night air.”
Chaffin paints a scene, but she also has several ideas on how to raise the funds to make it happen. The city could obtain a loan or ask voters to consider a bond package. There are grants and private investors who could help bring the Crim and Texan back to life, and the city is reinstating its non-profit status for the renovation project so donors get the benefit of tax write-offs.
“If people want to start supporting or donating their time or ideas or want to say something about it, definitely give me a call,” Chaffin said. She can be reached at (903) 984-5081.
Meanwhile, the Texas Shakespeare Festival has announced its 2012 lineup after record-breaking attendance in 2011. According to Caldwell, the festival sold 100 percent of its available seats, and he is hoping for two consecutive seasons at that clip.
Lineup for the 27th season of East Texas’ only professional theatre includes two William Shakespeare works: The Merry Wives of Windsor and Measure for Measure. Also scheduled this summer is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, a spoof of the playwright’s 37 plays that is performed in 97 minutes by three overzealous, energetic actors. The children’s play for this summer is Quest for the Lost Chalice, while the musical Blood Brothers, noted as the London West End’s longest-running production in history, makes its Texas Shakespeare Festival debut.
For tickets or more information, visit www.texasshakespeare.com, visit the Texas Shakespeare Festival office in person at
1100 Broadway Street in Kilgore, or call (903) 983-8601. Most major credit cards are accepted.