Paramount Theatre in Aurora to open immersive venue in 2022
Aurora's Paramount Theatre announced Friday that it plans to open a new immersive performance venue in summer 2022.
The Stolp Island Theatre is to be built at 5 E. Downer Place in a long vacant space on the lower level of a parking garage. The city-owned space, which previously housed a restaurant, is 6,000 square feet and can accommodate up to 99 seats depending upon each show's scenic configuration.
It is estimated that the Stolp Island Theatre could add up to $3.3 million to Aurora's annual economy by out-of-town guests seeing shows and patronizing area bars, restaurants and other attractions.
Paramount Theatre President and CEO Tim Rater said he got the idea for the new venue after seeing the off-Broadway hit "Sleep No More." It was an immersive interpretation of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" that ran almost nine years in New York.
"You interact with both the scenery and the actors," Rater said. "We were thinking we could do our own thing."
To get the Stolp Island Theatre up and running, Aurora and the Paramount Theatre has received a multiyear funding commitment from Chicago-based Verano Holdings Corp. It operates a Zen Leaf cannabis dispensary in Aurora.
"Bringing the community together through the performing arts aligns with our values, and Zen Leaf is grateful for the opportunity to help," said Verano co-founder Sammy Dorf in a statement. "There is something special happening in downtown Aurora, and we're honored to support this communitywide rejuvenation."
Though one Stolp Island Theatre rendering strongly suggests the hit 2012 Broadway musical "Once" staged within an Irish bar, Rater stressed that no shows have been selected at this point.
Rater also laughed off the suggestion that the Stolp Island Theatre should stage the musicals "Hair" or "Reefer Madness" in honor of Verano's patronage.
The Stolp Island Theatre grows the Aurora Civic Center Authority's portfolio of performance venues to four. The others are the historic 1,834-seat Paramount Theatre, the outdoor RiverEdge Park that hosts summer concerts and festivals, and the recently renovated 165-seat Copley Theatre.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered all of Aurora's performance venues since March 2020. But Rater hopes that performances can begin again soon with concerts starting up at RiverEdge potentially in July and the postponed musical "Kinky Boots" playing the Paramount Theatre in late summer or early fall.
"We will be back; it's just a matter of when," Rater said. "We want to continue to do our part to brining people to beautiful downtown Aurora."