"There are so many advantages at this new site," said Tim Van Bruggen, executive director of the faith-based, community theater group.
Since 2001 Master Arts has labored in a small headquarters/performance space tucked away on 77th St. just east of S. Division Ave. The theater group rented the facility, did some renovations, and eventually purchased it outright. But over the years its limited audience seating, lack of storage, non-accessible areas and parking challenges combined to crimp the growing theater ministry.
The new location: the Good News Baptist Church building on the corner of 68th St and Eastern Ave SE. in Gaines Township. Good News is building a new church facility and will be selling its current campus to MAT.
As paperwork is finalized and the church progresses on construction at its new site, the theatre could stage some productions at its new home as early as autumn of next year.
Van Bruggen gushed about the new location's positives - which are good news, indeed, for MAT.
"Two of the biggest plusses are location and visibility," he noted. "We're on the corner of a main thoroughfare (68th St.), on an exit street off 131 and smack between two larger commercial areas."
That's a huge change from MAT's current home, which is difficult to find for first-time visitors.
The larger space will also seem like a luxury. "We're going from a total of 12 thousand square feet to more than 34 thousand," said the Holland area native. A modest-sized activity center/gym will be ideal for a "black box" style performance space - similar to what they have now – seating around 125.
The church sanctuary, with seating up to 300, will need some re-working but will feature a traditional proscenium stage. There's even a rear balcony.
"And we'll have plenty of parking even for a sold out show," Van Bruggen added. "And it's completely accessible with ramps into the building and an elevator to the lower level."
In the basement is a large fellowship hall which could host dinners and conferences. And there are classrooms suitable for rehearsal space and storage.
FUNDING IS THE NEXT ACT
MAT officials have a financial plan for the sale and have quietly begun initial fundraising. Their goal is broad: $1.5 million for purchase and renovation costs, plus maintenance expenses and additional staff for a three to five year period. Once the actual sales agreement is finalized, a public capital campaign can be launched.
The non-profit group's current home on 77th St. SE will eventually be sold. Master Arts needs to continue there until the new site is ready. (A church congregation is currently renting the space for Sunday worship).
Master Arts has traditionally performed at other venues, taking their shows "on the road." The theater company includes several traveling troupes, including a street theater ensemble which performs each year at Festival of the Arts.
Last fall MAT partnered with Van Singel Auditorium in Byron Center where it staged the "Willy Wonka" children's musical. But facility scheduling is tight for Van Singel and similar venues for such multiple-day productions.
PREPARING THE PROGRAM
Meanwhile, Van Bruggen and crew are putting final touches on the children's production – "The Princess and the Pauper," which opens July 20. Then it's onto the 2018-19 season which carries the theme "A Season of Stories."
"Each production is based on a published book – whether a classic or a newer story," said Van Bruggen. The fall musical is the well-known "Man of LaMancha," inspired by the novel "Don Quixote." The show is already cast and rehearsals begin soon.
Later in the season: "The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe" (the C.S. Lewis fantasy), "When Calls the Heart" (adaptation of a Janette Oke story), "The Singer" (the Calvin Miller allegory), and the comedy-adventure "Around the World in 80 Days," based on the Jules Verne novel. (Season passes include admission to two youth productions. Visit www.masterarts.org).