Starlighters II Theatre recently purchased the old National Motorcycle Museum in downtown Anamosa, across the street from the current theatre. They hope to move into the new building within the next few months and open their 40th season on a new stage. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
One of the biggest changes is well on its way for Starlighters II Theatre since its 40 years of inception.
In about four months from now, the theatre’s board of directors, actors, production crew, set artists, marketing team, everyone who has a hand in Starlighters, will introduce its 40th anniversary year on a new stage in a new building in Anamosa.
While the move is not far (literally across the street), it’s a move many years in the making.
Starlighters Theatre will open its 40th season inside the old National Motorcycle Museum in downtown Anamosa.
“We would not be moving if the circumstances would not improve for us,” explained Starlighters Board President Rick Sanborn.
Moving into a larger building (16,000 square feet) spanning two floors allows for a larger stage, a larger lobby, more production room and more space for storing costumes and set pieces.
“Our new stage can be wider and deeper than what we’re working with now,” noted Sanborn as he sat on the current theatre’s stage.
While they’ve made things work to their advantage the past 39 years, Sanborn said they are looking forward to being able to do a lot more with the space allotted.
“We have very little wing space,” Sanborn said looking around the current stage. He explained if the actors need to get from one side of the stage to the other off-stage, they have to run downstairs and come up the opposite side. A brick wall stands in their way from simply running around back stage.
Thanks to donations from the old Anamosa middle school and Kirkwood Community College, Starlighters will be able to hang curtains in front of the new stage, something they’ve never been able to do before.
“There just isn’t the capacity to do that here,” Sanborn said looking around. “The donations have allowed us to save on investments.”
Sanborn said they will also be able to secure rolling set pieces that they can simply roll on or off stage versus pushing set pieces into place for certain scenes.
“We’ll be able to construct sets on the same floor as the stage and maintain the equipment to manufacture sets,” Sanborn said.
While the current stage is elevated, that is not the plan for the new stage, although, it will be more handicap accessible. The stage will also jut out into the audient more.
“We’ll still be able to keep the intimacy we’ve always had here,” said Sanborn. Starlighters is known for attracting and keeping the audience’s attention throughout a production. The small community theatre offers an intimate atmosphere.
The deeper stage will allow Starlighters to “properly present large musicals,” Sanborn explained. Again, over the years, they’ve done well with what they had to work with.
In purchasing the old museum and still maintaining the current theatre, Sanborn said it was time to start a capital campaign to help raise needed funds.
“Our expenses will be huge,” he said.
Not only will the funds be used to pay off the new building, but allow them to make the necessary renovations and keep the theatre going for years to come.
“We have four months to do the renovations,” said Sanborn. “We’d like to start our next season in there.”
In deciding on plans for the new theatre, the various theatre committees have been pouring over variations of ideas and blueprints from the start.
“The board (of directors) will give final approval,” Sanborn said, taking everyone’s thoughts into account.
Quite a few years ago, Starlighters purchased some land along Highway 151 with the intent to build a new theatre. Plans fell through. The purchase of the old motorcycle museum includes the swap of land.
“We’re in the perfect situation to finally do this,” Sanborn said. “The barriers that were in place before are not there anymore. The banks have been able to work with us to make it happen.”
Aside from a new stage and seating area and expanded lobby, men and women’s bathrooms will also be constructed, and made to handle more people. The walls will also be better insulated to keep the noise out of the production area and help enhance the sounds on stage.
“We can enhance the audiences’ experience by reducing the noise outside,” said Sanborn.
In full capacity, Starlighters seats 140 now. That will expand a bit to about 160 inside the new theatre.
If you’ve ever been to a Starlughters’ production, you’ve no doubt noticed the small sound and lighting booth in the back of the seating area. This booth will expand and be centrally located off the stage.
“It needs to be in full view of the stage,” said Sanborn.
For older members and theatregoers, the original Starlighters Theatre was a blessing for the county.
“It was functional under restricted circumstances,” said Sanborn. “This new theatre is the next evolution.”
The move is bittersweet for Starlighters, with so much history inside the current theatre. But the idea of what the community theatre could be has many excited and anticipating the move.
Starlighters serves more than just Jones County, pulling in actors and visitors from up to six area counties.
“Our needs are still here,” Sanborn said of needing more space to function. “The original dream never left. It’s always been on our minds, considering our limitations. The time is right.”
Right now, just getting the stage erected and the interior work completed is the main priority. Sanborn said the next phase of the project will be exterior signage.
The theatre is also rebranding its logo to include the celebration of its 40th season. Kirkwood graphic design students have been working on a new logo and new promotional posters for the various productions to come.
“It’s wonderful how our partnerships turn into new possibilities,” Sanborn said of their networking and connections they’ve made over the years.
As a purely volunteer organization, Starlighters would not be able to make this move and advance if it weren’t for all of its volunteers. Their hard work and dedication speaks volumes.
One of those long time volunteers is Bob Furino, co-founder of the original Starlighters. Sanborn said he’s been keeping in touch with Furino throughout the move and allowed him to come and check out the new building for ideas on how to expand.
“He knows what makes this theatre work,” Sanborn said of Furino’s dedication and history with Starlighters. “He’s been a great influence for us. His opinion matters greatly as the founding father of this theatre.”
For more information on Starlighters and news of its 40th season, visit http://starlighters.org.