The drama of renovation

The Theater Coalition supports the performing arts while heading up the renovation of the Lear Theater

Susan Mayes-Smith, executive director of the Theater Coalition.

Susan Mayes-Smith, executive director of the Theater Coalition.

Photo by David Robert

The colonial-style Lear Theater is a sight to see in the summertime—mere footsteps away from the Truckee River, surrounded by huge cottonwoods and pines, bordered by flowers and encircled by the emerald green of fresh-cut grass.

But now, the Lear Theater is undergoing renovation. The Lear will house four performance arenas: a main auditorium, a children’s theater/rehearsal and seminar area, a studio theater and an outdoor plaza. With money offered by Moya Lear and funds raised or donated by the community, considerable improvements must be made in order to bring the building up to code to house large audiences.

In addition to fitting those crowds, the renovation will preserve the outstanding aesthetic contributions made by architect Paul R. Williams, who designed the building in the late 1930s, and whose other structures were made famous in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s as Hollywood homes to the stars. The lobby of the Lear will bear Williams’ name; benefactors who donate $250,000 may have other Lear rooms as their namesakes.

The Theater Coalition, an organization established in 1994 to promote the arts, particularly performing arts, has been at the forefront of fund-raising efforts for the Lear. Most recently, the coalition hosted The Twelve Tastes of the Holidays event at Promenade on the River to raise funds for Lear renovation.

“While the Theater Coalition has been striving to advocate local performance groups, the organization has focused on aggressive fund-raising to complete the Lear Theater,” says Susan Mayes-Smith, executive director of the Theater Coalition. “In the next year, more attention must be placed on this initiative to meet the need for this venue more quickly.”

So far, $5.5 million has been raised. The goal is to raise another $3.5 million in the next year so that the theater can be ready for its intended June 2004 opening. Nine million bucks might seem like a heck of a lot of dough for a theater that has already been built, but Reno is really getting quite the bargain, Mayes-Smith says.

“New theaters generally run $17 to $30 million,” she observes. “Nine million is a really good deal.”

The ventures of the Theater Coalition, however, go far beyond the Lear Theater project.

“Our mission is to promote excellence and diversity in theater arts and education as well as performance facilities for the arts community of northern Nevada,” Mayes-Smith says.

The Theater Coalition offers its support to local thespians, artists and musicians by providing for collective advertising. Its organizers release a bi-monthly newsletter called City Stages News that lists all upcoming performances by groups who belong to the coalition. They also share their information with the nation via their Web site,

The Theater Coalition is not just for performers and artists in the community, but anybody with an interest in the arts.

“We have a membership list of nearly 2,000, but only about 50 of those are performance groups from northern Nevada,” Mayes-Smith says.

And all 2,000 folks, and then some, are anxiously waiting for the Lear to be complete, so that when the stage is polished and shined, when the curtains are washed and ironed, when the scaffolds come down and the freshly-painted doors open, they can flock inside, fill the seats and be taken away by the story of some timeless play.