Issaquah’s historic First Stage Theatre reopens; young performers return home

Robb Hunt, Village Theatre Executive Producer, has not had too many complaints about holding KIDSTAGE shows in Bellevue's Theatre at Meydenbauer Center for the past nine months. But now, he said, it feels like the KIDSTAGE program is back where it belongs.

An extensive renovation has returned First Stage Theatre to its glory.

An extensive renovation has returned First Stage Theatre to its glory.

Robb Hunt, Village Theatre Executive Producer, has not had too many complaints about holding KIDSTAGE shows in Bellevue’s Theatre at Meydenbauer Center for the past nine months.

Sure, it cost money to pay for stage hands, but the shows sold well and drew in children and teenagers from Bellevue eager to sing, dance and act. The whole organization and people at Meydenbauer are fantastic, but it wasn’t home, Hunt said.

Now, he said, it feels like the KIDSTAGE program is back where it belongs.

Earlier this month, First Stage Theater reopened for show business after years of planning a much-needed renovation. The curtain rose on the opening show “13” – a former Broadway musical about the difficulties of adolescence – April 7.

Crews had been working on the $3.1 million project since last summer: molding, wainscoting throughout the building, restoring the 1940s neon sign perched on the façade and making the building Earth-friendly with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

Built on wood blocks instead of a foundation, the historic theater, whose storefront dates back to the city’s beginnings, had been sinking into the ground. During its 98 years, it had also started to deteriorate.

The rebuilt space is not only a rehearsal theater for actors and a place to test out and refine original works, but also makes an ideal classroom.

“It’s a small theater and an appropriate learning environment for kids to learn,” Hunt said.

Inside, the theater features seats that fold-up against the wall like bleachers. Actors use well-lit dressing rooms instead of the cramped trailer they once used. New technology makes up the control booth, including a state-of-the-art sound system.

While shows such as the annual SummerStock musical for ages 8-18 will continue to be performed on the larger, Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, the renovated facility will be used for an ever-growing youth program that draws children from across the Eastside and Seattle.

First Stage is where many future stars perform in their first productions. Numerous alumni go on to Broadway, national tours and other professional theater.

“In some ways, we give kids the kind of training they would get at Cornish [College of the Arts],” Hunt said.

 

Gabrielle Nomura be reached at 425-453-4602.


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