In 2005, a huge part of the Downtown Development District’s “Baton Rouge 2000” plan came into fruition with the opening of the Shaw Center for the Arts. Inside, the curtain opened on the dome-shaped Manship Theatre.
This year the now well-established and esteemed theater is celebrating in a way that only a theater can, with its 10th anniversary season.
Bringing to Baton Rouge something the city had been lacking for years, The New York Times has called Manship Theatre and the Shaw Center for the Arts the showpiece of revitalized downtown.
While it’s a sentiment Manship Theatre’s executive director Renee Chatelain says she shares, the much bigger picture, according to her, is the theater’s economic value to its community.
“While restaurants and other venues in the downtown area have benefitted from crowds headed to the theater for rehearsals, performances and exhibitions, the theater has provided jobs and opportunities for artists and arts lovers,” Chatelain said. “Beyond the revitalization of downtown, Manship Theatre is a vital quality of life quotient for business recruitment and for lifetime residents.”
Starting Sunday, the theater will pack presentations of comedy, dance, music, films, plays and musicals into a week, culminating with the theater’s annual Red Carpet Gala featuring the rock band Loverboy.
“The Manship Theatre Board and staff wanted to provide a way for the entire community to celebrate the theater’s first decade,” Chatelain said. “We wanted to offer a sample of the diverse programming in the Hartley/Vey Studio and Workshop, The Gallery at Manship Theatre, the Main Stage, and Jones Walker Foyer, as well as the numerous programs that reach out into the community.”
The multi-day celebration allows for a variety of events, with varied ticket prices, including some free.
“Participation is important too, so we wanted the Manship Student Advisory Board, a board of high school students from across the parish, to showcase their talents for a cause as well as have the EBR Fortier/Gerbrecht Jazz Invitational, Ten Tiny Dances with local choreographers and dancers, and the like,” Chatelain said.”
Kicking off the celebration will be “Pinkalicious - The Musical,” an original presentation of New York City’s Vital Theatre Company based on the 2006 picture book by Elizabeth Kann.
Adapted by Vital Theatre almost immediately after the book’s release and now in its seventh season of tours, it’s the story of a girl named Pinkalicious who can’t stop eating pink cupcakes despite warnings from her parents.
“It’s an adorable show — she’s an adorable character with a lovely family,” said Steven Sunderlin, Vital Theatre’s artistic director. “Kids as early as (age) 2, even infants come to see our show — up to about age 8.”
But fret not parents, even with its girlish appeal, Sunderlin said moms, grandparents and even dads put their electronic devices down to enjoy the show, some even donning aptly-themed pink attire.
“It’s like Pinkalicious is a rock star,” he continued. “For 5-year-olds to see her in person — it’s an event.”
The show features a young, all adult cast. Sunderlin said that over the years cast changes have mostly been attributed to members leaving for Broadway, one member even joining the cast of “Wicked” after her involvement with the Vital show.
Sunderlin said his cast is excited to visit Louisiana, even more so as part of the Manship Theatre’s anniversary celebration.
“I think that any theater that has survived for 10 years in this day and age is doing something right,” he said. “‘Pinkalicious’ is a great show for them and their audience — it’s a great celebration of theater.”
Included in the full week of presentations will also be Arts for Autism, a production of the Manship Theatre Student Advisory Board, whose mission is to enrich the youth of Baton Rouge through exposure to the arts and management with the guidance of those who work in the industry.
The production is a performance highlighting the talent of the board’s students, ranging from play excerpts, vocal performances, dance performances, instrumental performances and a performance by the Zachary High School Talented Drama department.
All benefits from the show will go to Unlocking Autism, a local grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by Autism Spectral Disorder.
“We are honored to play a part in celebrating a high level of arts and sense of community,” Chatelain said.
A full schedule of anniversary events is available at manshiptheatre.org.