Rendering shows planned new stage at Park Square in St. Paul / Provided by Park Square Theatre

Park Square Theatre is on to the next thing — the Next Stage. Over a cup of coffee in his St. Paul office Tuesday, artistic director Richard Cook demonstrated again why he’s one of the very best theater administrators in the Twin Cities. Cook’s organization will open a second stage in the historic Hamm Building in the fall of 2011. Next Stage will be a 142-seat semi-thrust stage carved out of currently underused basement space. The $4.2 million project (Development director Michael-jon Pease says they’ve raised $1.3 million) will mean that Park Square can produce 18 shows a year, and if Cook’s projections hold up, raise annual audience figures to 86,000.

Cook has methodically and smartly strengthened his company in the past few years, securing high-profile shows and noticeably beefing up his acting talent. The investment has paid off. Since the start of the fall season, Park Square’s numbers are up 15 percent over a year ago. The second stage means Park Square will employ more actors, stage twice as many plays and reach about 30,000 more patrons. At the same time, the main 344-seat auditorium will get a needed buff and fluff.

The new stage construction is budgeted at $1.5 million. Dressing rooms would sit right next to the current quarters and create something of a hub. Surprising for a basement, the ceilings hit 15 feet (once you remove the drop panels) and the room has an open, almost airy feel. Surrounding the seating would be a gallery space with tables and chairs.

Rendering shows planned new stage at Park Square in St. Paul / Provided by Park Square Theatre

When both theaters are up and running, Cook will have more productions each year than any theater other than the Guthrie and Children’s Theatre Company. As part of his initial plan, he’s looking for small theater producers to be part of project — not so much as rentals but in a closer working relationship for a few years. He’s sent out feelers to nearly two dozen companies and has received interest from more than a handful.

As for programming, Cook said Park Square would always endeavor to have a populist show and something more adventurous going on at the same time. That does not necessarily mean "new stuff" downstairs and "classic stuff" upstairs. For example, if "God of Carnage," the hot Broadway comedy, were to come available, that would likely go in the bigger auditorium, while downstairs, audiences might get an intimate "Three Sisters," seeing Chekhov in a way that is pretty rare. On the other hand, you might get a big Shakespeare upstairs and an edgier work downstairs.

Plus, Cook believes he can book student groups into both places; those matinees are a lifeblood.

It’s something new to look forward too in St. Paul theater. Click here for more.



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