For more information about the campaign or to make a gift, please contact Cameron Bean, Director of Development at 706-256-0942.
Ledger-Enquirer News coverage
The Springer Opera House has launched an $11.5 million capital campaign — the majority of which will fund the construction of a children’s theatre and education center — and the Springer has raised $10.25 million in pledges towards the total goal.
Longtime Springer trustee and actress Dorothy W. “Dot” McClure has pledged a $3 million lead gift on behalf of the McClure Family Foundation.
“Dot’s leadership and devotion to the Springer has the whole organization fired up,” producing artistic director Paul Pierce said. “This is truly a transformational moment for Columbus and the Springer. Phase one will start almost immediately.”
Pierce said that the first phase is the building of the new education center and that work will begin as soon as the contractor is physically able to get started.
Artist's rendering of the Education Center to be located on 2nd Avenue.
The Springer won’t start construction on the remainder of the project until the capital campaign is concluded.
“Since we have the cash in hand to build the classroom complex now, the board decided to break ground right away so we can start serving more children this season,” said Pierce.
The total project includes a flexible-space children’s theatre, a “learning park” adjacent to the new theatre, additional classrooms and improvements to the National Historic Landmark itself. The project adds more than 35,000 square feet of space for children’s programming at the Springer.
“This is a case of children leading the way,” said Pierce. “The Academy is all about leadership and, believe me, they are leading.”
Springer officials are confident the project will help fuel economic development in Columbus and open the door to a fresh round of investment and jobs in Uptown.
“For nearly 140 years, each new surge in economic development was propelled by a big idea at the Springer Opera House,” Pierce said. “The Springer was built in 1871 and a flurry of prosperity followed. After the Springer renovation of 1964, merchants, residents and capital returned to the city center. Our grand restoration project of 1998 helped fuel the resurgence of Uptown as a destination and the district is buzzing today.”
And despite the current economic downturn, demand for the Springer’s youth services remains high.
“The Springer Theatre Academy is bursting at the seams,” said Ron Anderson, director of the Springer Theatre Academy. “We’ve had to hold classes in the lobby, the saloon, hallways, even outside, and we’re enjoying our biggest year ever.”
Anderson said that the project will more than double capacity for education and outreach and that enrollment is projected to increase by more than 25 percent in the first year alone.
The building project and fund-raising campaign were announced at a news conference at 4:30 p.m. on Monday. Instead of a traditional ground-breaking ceremony, Springer leaders used hammers to break a mannequin leg in honor of the phrase “break a leg” that is used to encourage actors before they go on stage. Donors, board members, community leaders and lots of Springer Theatre Academy students, many of them wearing Springer Theatre Academy T-shirts, attended the announcement.
The Springer will renovate or replace seven derelict buildings downtown for the project. Three buildings on Second Avenue will be renovated immediately as classrooms and a prop shop while four additional storefronts along First Avenue will be transformed into the McClure Theatre, in honor of Dot McClure’s service since 1964.
The architect for the theatre is Hecht Burdeshaw Architects and the general contractor is Bray Building. Project management will be provided by Newton Aaron and Associates.
“This can be a real game changer for Uptown Columbus,” Springer board chair Cliff Mason said. “Activating First and Second Avenue with children and families will attract new businesses to the area and spur investment in Uptown.”
The Springer Theatre Academy was founded in 1996 by Anderson. During its 14 years it has become the largest theatre academy in the Southeast and, with 800 yearly enrollments, it is one of the largest in the United States. Besides being a theatre training conservatory, the Springer Theatre Academy is also a character education program with the philosophy of teaching “Life skills through stage skills.”
This season, the Springer Theatre Academy has expanded its offerings with acting classes for adults.
The Springer Theatre Academy has fueled attendance growth for the Springer’s main program, attracting a younger, more diverse audience at a time when many American theatres are drastically reducing programs or even closing their doors due to the struggling economy, Pierce said. The Springer presents more than 200 performances a year along with year-round Academy classes, outreach services and a national touring program that travels to some 30 states every season.
Pierce attributed much of the Springer Theatre Academy’s success to its ArtServe outreach program. ArtServe reaches some 15,000 children every year through collaborations with area schools. With this program, children are bused to the Springer for performances and post-show “talk-backs.” Springer artists also visit school classrooms to conduct workshops and teachers are provided with study guides about the theatre, the playwrights and the performances.
“ArtServe is often the first theatre experience a local child has,” said Anderson. “Once a child sees a live play and has the ability to meet and talk to real actors, they think, ‘I can do that.’ Many of these kids are from low-income families so we work hard to make sure that scholarship money is available to the motivated children who need it.”