less drama, more theatre
As Austin remains caught between its past weirdness and very mainstream future, one professional theater company flips the script. Penfold Theatre Company has been transient for 16 years, producing "classics" with a free-spirited twist in locations around town. It's been lauded with more than 160 local awards over those years. But now it's time to settle down in Round Rock.
The Round Rock City Council has unanimously approved a $326,330 Arts Grant that will allow Penfold to renovate a space at Rock Creek Plaza to become its permanent home. The new venue is due to open in fall 2024.
“With a permanent home, Penfold can build deeper, more focused relationships with area audiences, artists and supporters,” said producing artistic director Ryan Crowder. “Penfold will serve as the venue’s manager and primary tenant, producing an annual season of plays and musicals. In addition, Penfold will offer affordable rental space to other arts organizations and welcome artists who are displaced or without performance space.”
Funds for this venture come from the hotel occupancy tax — funds collected from hotel guests — essentially returning monies generated through tourism back to the institutions that drew the tourists (as well as some business people and other travelers, of course). The grant will cover the venue's rent for 18 months.
The space at I-35 and North Mays Street is already a venue, with 6,400 square feet of space including a lobby, an event space, public restrooms, and backstage support areas, according to a release. It will seat 100-150 people, and doesn't need much additional work. Penfold's website also lists:
- External signage
- A lobby with food and drink concessions
- Stadium seating
- New equipment for the stage and backstage
- Light renovations to the event space
Since the City agreement covers rent, Penfold is still raising funds to make these physical changes. Out of its $100,000 goal, $35,000 has already been met by the Next Act Foundation. Penfold seeks the remaining $65,000 in cash and in-kind goods and services in what it calls Phase One of the Homecoming Campaign.
Penfold is best known for theater productions with a regular stage and audience, but also branches out with live holiday "radiocasts" at the Driskill Hotel, and outdoor theater productions in the “Penfold in the Park" series, which takes place at Round Rock's Centennial Plaza Amphitheater. It also hosts workshops, internships, camps, and more community events.
In addition to providing a space for an organization that is already deep in the community's good graces, this venture is presented as an answer to several other needs. According to a release, those include incubating local arts organizations and providing Round Rock with an indoor performing arts facility.
Most folks in Round Rock appear to be on board: a survey run by the City found that 86 percent of participants thought it should "fully support or play a major role in expanding arts and culture opportunities,” and 63 percent rated adapting or building new facilities for that purpose as high-priority.
"These agreements are in line with the City's objective to nurture creative enterprises and expand entertainment choices for our residents—a mission that Penfold has consistently supported through the years,” said Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan in the release. “I believe this project is the right fit for Round Rock and I look forward to this new chapter in Penfold's efforts to enrich our cultural landscape.”
The 2024-2025 season has not been announced yet, but Penfold expects its first performance to happen in October. More information about the new venue plans is available at penfoldtheatre.org.