If you have ever felt cramped at Center Stage Theatre, those days are over.
The Biloxi playhouse recently debuted an expanded lobby, which adds about 350 square feet of space and quadruples its seating capacity in the entryway. New flooring, lighting and ceiling tiles freshen up the venue, and newly reconfigured and enlarged restrooms are fully accessible for guests with disabilities.
The thrust of the renovation, says Sherri Lipscomb, Center Stage board member and project manager, was accessibility.
“Of course, having a fresh, new lobby with much more space is great for our patrons, too,” she says. “It took one group of dedicated fundraisers, a whole lot of generous donors and about six months of hard work.”
David Delk, the theater’s publicity chairman, credits Lipscomb and Center Stage President Kennedy Miazza as being two of the project’s main drivers.
“Being a nonprofit organization, and with all of us having day jobs with limited time to spare, the board thought it would be an impossible task to raise funds and see the end of this remodel adventure,” Delk says. “But with Kennedy’s leadership, along with Sherri’s passion to have a perfect new lobby, we successfully completed the project with our fundraising goal almost reached.”
DEDICATED TO THE ARTS
The women’s efforts are a testament to their commitment to Center Stage, which was founded in 1975. Miazza, who owns Martin Miazza Gifts in Gulfport, has been involved with the theater since its inception, as her parents were two of its founding members. After graduating from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, she studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City before returning to her native Gulfport in 1991.
“I am so fortunate that I am able to live on the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast, run my family business and still have the opportunity to be in top-quality plays that feed my creative side,” she says. “Also, I find it very humbling when I see people who have been patrons of Center Stage for many years, and they tell me how much the theater means to them.”
Lipscomb joined the Center Stage Board of Directors in 2021 as the theatre was reopening after the COVID-19 shutdown. She’d spent the previous five years working with Southeast Alabama Community Theatre, in addition to her other nonprofit administration experience, and now serves as the board secretary. She also runs the venue’s concessions operation and writes grants — including the proposal to the Mississippi Arts Commission that covered $105,000 of the project’s $348,000 price tag.
“The remainder was good old-fashioned fundraising done largely by the board’s fundraising committee, led by Kennedy, board member Victoria Salloum Chambers and chaired by theatre founder and longtime supporter John B ‘Shorty’ Sneed,” Lipscomb says. “We also netted about $15,000 toward the project with our summer musical dinner theatre, ‘Let’s Misbehave,’ at Great Southern Club.”
‘THE COAST’S THEATER’
The revamped lobby is dedicated to the memory of Lori Aimee Sneed, who was actively involved at Center Stage before she sustained a spinal cord injury in a tragic car accident. Sneed died of liver cancer in 2017, and her family gave generously to the theatre’s building fund in her honor.
While the latest improvements took Center Stage to the next level, Lipscomb suggests there could be more to come.
“We’d love to apply for another round of MAC’s Building Fund for the Arts and finish making our lobby accessible by renovating our concessions area and upgrading our theatre space with new lighting and sound equipment,” she says.
Beyond just a physical transformation, Center Stage’s renovation symbolizes the spirit and vision of the individuals, like Miazza and Lipscomb, who made it possible and intend to keep going. Miazza says she considers Center Stage “the Coast’s theater” — a special place where children and adults alike can immerse themselves in the arts.
“It is so fulfilling to realize that our space will be accessible to (all visitors) now,” she adds. “We certainly had limitations before, but moving forward, we offer a theatre that works for everyone.”