This week brought the welcome news that there will be an encore for The Stage at Island Park. The Stage has been closed since the discovery that a roof beam was cracked and the building was structurally unsound.
The discovery came after a community theater performance in December of “A Christmas Carol.” There’s never a good time for a problem that incapacitates a theater, but that was a dramatically bad time.
We were confident that a bad beam wouldn’t be the end of The Stage — an important cultural venue in Fargo-Moorhead since the community theater opened in that location in 1967 — but it’s nice to have confirmation.
The Stage will be bigger and better than before.
The Fargo Park Board has approved a request for The Stage to occupy a bit more of Island Park — 11,000 square feet — which ultimately will get a new east addition that could house a smaller second stage, the "Black Box Theatre,” for small theatrical productions, musical performances and rehearsals.
Here’s a glimpse of the upgraded, expanded and structurally sound community theater venue:
Workers will replace the entire roof, installing steel beams, as well as new east and west walls. The revamped theater will include new wiring, sound and lighting and increased seating featuring new seats. Work, expected to start soon, will take 12 months.
In a second phase expected to take six months, workers will build a new east addition housing administrative offices — the current east addition has mold problems — and a four-story educational wing. New restrooms, concession area and lobby also will be provided.
In short, The Stage is getting a major makeover and additional space that will enable expanded programming.
As a result, the arts and therefore the quality of life in Fargo-Moorhead will be stronger.
Originally called the Emma K. Herbst Playhouse when it opened in 1967, The Stage’s design, with a thrust stage, was inspired by the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis that provides an intimate setting for the audience, the theater has been enlarged by previous expansions, including one in 2011.
The recovery from the closure forced by the beam failure is all the more impressive coming as it does in the midst of the pandemic, which has been so disruptive to our routines. By the time the rebuilt Stage is ready for its first performance, the pandemic should be behind us.
And when the curtain rises for that first performance, it will be a triumph for the local arts community, worthy of a big round of applause.