By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The cast and crew of “I Remember Mama” had finished their last show at Stained Glass Theatre and were beginning to strike the set when the walls crumbled. The May 22, 2011, tornado leveled the building just east of St. John’s Hospital, claiming the lives of three cast and crew members and seriously injuring six others.
In the months that followed, Stained Glass regrouped, relocated to the Bridge and put on its first show. The board of directors began forming short-term and long-term action teams to explore options.
One thing they knew: The 18-year-old organization would not bring down the curtain for good.
Tonight, Stained Glass Theatre will open the curtain on its first show of this season. It’s also kicking off a new building campaign, appropriately titled, “Raising the Curtain.”
“It’s been a dream of ours for a long time to have our own theater, because we’ve always just made do,” said Gregg Murdock, president of the theater’s board. “The old building wasn’t built as a theater. There was no curtain, but we worked with what we had. Now, after a very bad situation, some good will end up coming out of it, and for that, we’re thankful.”
After deciding to relocate its hospital, Mercy Health System of Joplin began talks with the Stained Glass Theatre board, posing the question: Would the theater like to have four acres on which to build? Overwhelmed, the response from the board was a grateful “yes.”
The new theater is to be built immediately south of where the old St. John’s Hospital stood at 26th Street and Maiden Lane. The board is working with an architect to develop plans, and has been in preliminary discussions with representatives in the construction industry to obtain estimates.
“We need to raise $1.5 to $2 million,” Murdock said. “What we’re looking to design is a smaller theater like before, that will seat between 200 and 250 people, because we like the close intimate feel with the audience.”
The building also will include storage for costumes and sets, and will include a few classrooms.
“We’d like to start exploring the opportunity to provide ... children with a place they can come and cultivate the arts,” Murdock said. “Not just theater, but those who paint, draw, do music, because all of those things are used in theater. This will give us a building that will accomplish that.”
Plans call for Irving Elementary School to be built immediately south of the site, which could provide opportunities for the students and the theater.
“(Joplin Schools Superintendent C.J.) Huff has been very encouraging of us going in there,” Murdock said. “The school district has let us utilize North Middle School for our performances, and I believe it is a great relationship that will continue to blossom.”
Tonight, “Treasure Island” opens for a two-weekend run at North Middle School under the direction of Tammy Aggus. It is the first of four major performances this season being billed as fundraising events for the building campaign.
Appropriate for all ages, it stars Caleb Hurley, an 11-year-old who just moved to Joplin from Maryland, as Jim Hawkins.
“He’s doing a great job. He blew us away at our auditions,” Aggus said.
Playing the role of Long John Silver is Kenan Klein, a student at Ozark Christian College.
Set design draws on the talents of two young people: Justin Piercy, also a student at OCC, and Shea Dalton, a sophomore at Diamond High School. Costumes are designed by Justin’s mother, Lea Ann Piercy.
Beyond raising money through performance ticket sales, the board is exploring opportunities for grants, and has had several organizations connected in the theater community outside of Joplin express a desire to help. The board is also seeking a core group of local donors who have the means to make significant contributions in order to create momentum with the project.
Murdock anticipates fundraising lasting through 2014, with construction taking place in 2015.
Donations may be made online at www.sgtjoplin.org, or mailed to SGT, P.O. Box 3862, Joplin, MO 64803. The number for the theater’s roaming phone is 417-626-1293.
Stained Glass Theatre season
“Treasure Island”: North Middle School, 102 N. Gray Ave. 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2-3 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 4. Tickets: $8 for Adults, $5 for children 13 and under. $6 group rate for parties of 10 or more.
“A Christmas Carol”: Taylor Auditorium at MSSU, Dec. 13-16.
“You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown”: Performances to be announced for 2013.
“The Music Man”: Performances to be announced for 2013.