A crowd of supporters sits in the future mainstage theater of the Willow Bend Center of the Arts. In its current state, there’s dust everywhere. There are wall panels and fiberglass stacked in the corner, and there’s no overhead lighting. But as two girls start to sing “For Good” from the Broadway show “Wicked,” the unfinished walls don’t look so bad.
As their small voices belt, the audience can envision what this stage will look like when it’s fully dressed up.
At the top of the year, Plano Children’s Theatre and North Texas Performing Arts announced that The Shops at Willow Bend would be its new home. The new 22,000-square-foot space will host four performance theaters – two mainstages as large as the Courtyard Theatre and two black box theaters – as well as five rehearsal studios, a dance studio, four individual practice rooms for voice lessons, a set build and costume shop and an office for NTPA staff.
After months of pledges and campaigning, there’s still more money to raise and more work to do.
“We’re two-thirds of the way there, and we’re really working on that last third to get us over the hump, to get us to the point where we can operate the way we want to,” said Darrell Rodenbaugh, NTPA board president.
NTPA has made great progress so far. All the practice rooms, rehearsal rooms and black box theaters have been sponsored and pledged by local families and businesses, but there’s still room for more. There are several studios – worth up to $10-20,000 – waiting for sponsorships along with the mainstage theaters, seating, the set build studio, NTPA offices and concession and ticketing.
Rodenbaugh and several NTPA supporters are hoping to engage families close to the theater through the Friends and Family donors package, where they can pledge up to $1,000 for front-row seating in one of the mainstage theaters or $300 or $500 for a spot on the Rogue’s Gallery Photo wall located in the main corridor. Residents can also preserve their legacies on the “Our Stars” Honor Wall, which will also be in the main corridor. For $500, $750, or $1,000, donors can get their names engraved on stars meant to honor students, parents, families or show names.
The largest way to make an impact is to sponsor one of the mainstage theaters for $75,000. Corporate sponsors are also encouraged to contribute, especially when over 200,000 patrons are expected to frequent the new space when it opens.
NTPA has already received donations from Starcatcher, the MR and Evelyn Hudson Foundation, Clay and Molly Carter, and Lynley and Emory Glicker as well as corporate sponsors like the Neiman Marcus Foundation, Texas Instruments, Legacy Bank, Junior League of Collin County and more.
There are opportunities for those who can’t donate their money, but can roll up their sleeves and volunteer for the theater.
“They don’t have to have a lot of talent,” Rodenbaugh said. “We’ll teach you all you need to do. We just need people that are willing to come forward, get their hands a little dirty, to help us build this out.”
Volunteers are also needed to clean up and organize NTPA’s costume closet.
“There’s lots of opportunities for anybody who wants to give us one hour, 100 hours, $1, $75,000,” he said. “The Plano Children’s Theatre and North Texas Performing Arts, they’re managed by professionals, made possible by volunteers. Everything we do is volunteer-driven.”
Many volunteers have already gotten the NTPA to this point. The design architect was a volunteer. A volunteer will install the telecommunications network. Even some of the construction on the space is done voluntarily.
“We’re building this through volunteerism, and fundamentally, that’s what’s making it happen,” Rodenbaugh said.
Willow Bend and StarWood Retail set the stage for the new home of NTPA. By offering a discounted lease and an abundance of space, NTPA will truly have space to flex and grow, Rodenbaugh said, but not without the community behind them.
“That’s why we’re here,” said David Weatherford of Plano. He was one of many families Wednesday night who toured the future home of NTPA. Weatherford had two boys go through the Plano Children’s Theatre, and even though they’ve aged out, the Weatherford family is still giving back so it continues to impact lives.
Thanks to the NTPA training grounds, Weatherford said one of his sons will be attending Ryder University in the fall to study musical theater, one of the top 10 programs in the country.
“We came in when it was just one facility over in Plano. We laugh because the costume room is half the size of what it used to be originally,” he said. “It used to just be the black box.”
And though the space is unfinished, parents who’ve been there for years see the vision. Even with unfinished hallways and bare walls, “This is amazing,” Weatherford said.