The Lyric Theatre is in a transition, board chairman Hank Hunter explains.
And this winter, that work is well underway on several fronts.
“The Lyric is moving from a restoration project to operating as a small business,” Hunter said. Even so, there’s still some construction work left to do.
As usually happens with any theatrical production, there’s more going on behind the scenes than the audience might realize.
The historic Lyric Theatre reopened in December 2014 following more than a decade of fundraising and renovation work. The first show in the restored theater was “Anything Goes,” and since then the venue has become a popular site not only for the four or five shows the Lyric produces each year, but also for high school productions, movies and other events booked by outside organizations.
Audience response has continued to grow over the two years and two months the theater has been in operation. The current production of “The Beverly Hillbillies” is a prime example.
“At (last Thursday night’s) special showing sponsored by Citizens National Bank, I am overjoyed and thoroughly delighted by the attendance of city employees,” Hunter said. “At the beginning of the show, people in the audience who were in the Lyric for the first time were asked to raise their hands, and it was a large majority on both the main floor and the balcony.”
Citizens National Bank sponsored the performance that is usually the “grand dress rehearsal,” the last run-through before the official opening of a show. With employees of the cities of Brownwood, Early and Bangs and their families attending with employees of the bank, it was nearly a capacity crowd.
Typically, grand dress is played to an audience of maybe a dozen people, but Larry Mathis, director of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” said the large crowd gave the cast a taste of how audiences will react to the lines the actors say.
“This show especially appeals to people of all ages,” Hunter said, so he was pleased that several of the families at the Thursday showing brought their children and treated them to live theater. “It’s a laughingly good time for families.”
The second and final week of shows begins Friday. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Saturday matinee was added over the weekend due to unprecedented response.
Tickets costing $12 for adults and $8 for students are available online at www.brownwoodlyrictheatre.com.
Meanwhile, behind double doors in the Lyric lobby, demolition work is nearly complete for a total renovation of the facility next door.
“We are excited about the remodel of the former 4 Corners building into what will be called the Robert and Florence Moore Lyric Performing Arts Studio,” Hunter said. “The space will be first-class and professional, and it will provide an expanded lobby, a green room, restrooms for men and women, and a costume storage area on its second floor.”
The Lyric managed to operate in the building in a rough manner for the past two seasons, Hunter said. One part of the building was used as a green room, where actors waiting for their scenes had access to snacks and drinks, with other areas divided into men’s and women’s dressing rooms. A single bathroom served everyone.
“A little more than a year ago, Bettie Girling gave a gift that enabled us to purchase and remodel the space,” Hunter said. The building has been named in memory of Girling’s parents, who lived in Brownwood. Mrs. Girling, an Austin resident who grew up in Brownwood, died last July before she was able to see how her gift is being put to use.
“Having this (4 Corners) property was nowhere on our radar when we started restoring the Lyric,” Hunter said. “But all things worked together in an amazing and wonderful way.”
Hunter said the cast and board are eagerly awaiting the grand opening of the center. Barring unexpected delays, that could happen in time for the Lyric’s major musical this summer, “Oliver.”
With remodeling of the 4 Corner space underway, the cast of the production now being presented is preparing for their performances in an area a bit farther away from the stage.
“For this Beverly Hillbillies, actors are having to walk across the back alley from a temporary green room in another building,” Hunter said. It fronts on Brown Street, behind the Lyric building.
“To be on stage, they have to come out across the alley, into the Lyric basement, and wait until it’s time to come on stage. Without the 4 Corners building, this wild scenario would have been the norm since we opened.”
Another advantage of having the former 4 Corners building is that actors can move directly from the dressing rooms and green room to backstage.
“Whenever I talk about the Lyric, I must always speak to what is the heart of this theatre, and that is the people who volunteer,” Hunter said. “The audience sees the actors on stage, but there are also people behind the scenes who are not on center stage who make this happen.”
Meanwhile, as work on the former 4 Corners building continues, Hunter said the Lyric board’s mindset is shifting from restoration and construction to operations and sustaining the theater’s success.
“With that change, we have to retool the way we do things,” Hunter said. “Ticket sales do not cover our operating costs, so patron ticket purchasers along with business patrons and others who support the Lyric are making this possible.”
The board is also focused on attracting an audience from outside the immediate Brownwood area, Hunter said. Several hundred reservations from individuals as far away as Fort Worth have been made for the current show.
Robert “Bert” Moore and Florence Irene Shaw Moore were longtime residents of Brownwood who raised their working-class family here. They were married for 56 years until his death in 1975. She died in 1983.
In addition to the late Bettie Girling, the Moores were the parents of two Brownwood residents, Sue Hunter and Judy Jane Moore.
Bettie Girling and her husband, Robert, who died in December 2013, had previously donated $500,000 to the Lyric Theatre’s renovation when the project was just getting off the ground a decade ago. The couple created a company that grew into the regional Girling Health Care organization in 1967.