Ft. Ben Theater Gets the Green Light

The city of Lawrence and Partnerships for Lawrence, a nonprofit organization that promotes the arts, will partner to bring the performing arts and other community programs to the Fort Benjamin Harrison Theater on Otis Avenue.
Partnerships for Lawrence has been interested in reviving live theater in Lawrence for some time. Judy Byron, its executive director, approached the Jessup administration to form a partnership that will allow the nonprofit to rent the building, occupy it Oct. 1 and begin programming performances and community activities soon thereafter.
“We’ve been pleased to see the community support the Fridays at the Fort concert series this summer and last,” Mayor Jessup said. “The crowds demonstrated that Lawrence residents and visitors have caught the community spirit and are interested in the arts. By working together, our city and the Partnerships for Lawrence can build upon those successes with programming throughout the year.”
A contractor working with the Lawrence Department of Public Works is making several repairs and Partnerships for Lawrence plans to make other improvements, such as painting and installing new carpet.
“The theatre is just adorable,” said Byron. “It looks a little worn right now, but with a coat of paint and some TLC, it will be wonderful.” The theater has 200 seats and a full stage. It was built in 1929 to entertain troops stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison and it closed when the fort closed in 1995. The building recently was used by the National Guard to house band practice and store instruments, but the guard departed at the end of January, leaving the building vacant.
The theater can also be used for meetings and other uses. Partnerships for Lawrence created a plan, Byron noted, that included creating a cultural destination for Lawrence which would stimulate economic development. and be an agent of positive change. “This will help make us a cultural destination, which will help attract economic growth in the area.”
Partnerships for Lawrence will move its headquarters from its current location on Franklin Road to the theatre around mid-October. Programs such the Poets Laureate of Lawrence poetry readings will also move to the theatre, and they are working with the Lawrence Parks Department to move arts programming in as well. “We’re interested in making the space available to a variety of performers,” Byron said.
Most exciting, she noted, is the official announcement that the Spotlight Players has been named their preferred partner for live theater. The Players are a well-respected local theater group that put on award-winning productions in Beech Grove until last year. They are slated to have their first performances in the renovated theater in early December.
“This a thrilling turn of events,” Byron said. “Partnerships for Lawrence has gathered a capable group of community theater supporters who want to move quickly to bring the theater back to all its glory and more and make it once again Lawrence’s favorite venue for performing arts and community programming. We’re grateful to Mayor Jessup for working with us to make our dream come true.”
Organizations or performers interested in using the space should visit www.lawrenceartcenter.net and click on “Bring Back the Theater” for more information.