Spring, 1997

ASTC to Host Charette & Slide Show in Pittsburgh

ASTC’s Forum 99 in San Francisco was on of our best attended with over 40 members and guests and a packed weekend of events. Theatre tours were conducted at Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens, War Memorial Opera House, American Conservatory Theatre and Davies Symphony Hall.

The topic of this year’s Forum was opera house design and function in the North American and how various opera companies are unique. Technical Directors from four major US opera companies participated in the discussions. Guest participants included Robert Schaub from the Seattle Opera, John David Peters from the San Diego Opera, Drew Landmesser from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Patrick Markle from the San Fransico Opera and John Priest formerly with the San Francisco Opera. Topics of discussion included program requirements and design of front and back of house spaces, state of the art technology, safety, staffing and current trends in operations.

The ASTC Intern Program was initiated at Forum 99. The ASTC Intern Program is designed to introduce interested students to the field of theatre consulting. Applications were solicited at collegiate Drama and Architecture departments across the country. Four participants were accepted to join in all of the ASTC functions and to partake in a mentoring session with select ASTC members. Interns receive a certificate of completion at the end of the weekend. Participating interns this year were; Alex Bagnall and Jody Kovalick who are currently in the MFA program in the Yale School of Drama with emphasis in theatre engineering, Kimberly Long who has a Masters from the University of Texas School of Architecture and Jennifer Zeller who has a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of Minnesota. The success of this year’s Intern Program was a wonderful kick-off to future programs.

Where Theatre and Architecture Meet: The Great ASTC Theatre Design Charette

Few professions understand each other as poorly as Architecture and the Theatre, and this is never more apparent than when a new theatre is being designed or an old one renovated. Some theatre folks think Architects have a simplistic understanding of the Theatre, limited to clichéd images of curtains, ornamental proscenium arches, and any light fixture with a barn door on it-along with a general notion that theatre is just about scenic illusion. Sadly, for their part "Theatre folks have an equally narrow view of architecture: architects as Fountainhead-scale egotists, more concerned about lobbies than stages and dressing rooms- and that architecture is somehow dedicated to arbitrarily imposing order while disregarding practical concerns.

How ironic, really, the Architecture and Theatre- the two great collaborative art forms- should so misunderstand each other,

Theatre consultants, who specialize in the planning and design of performing arts buildings, spend their lives somewhere between these two worlds of Architecture and Theatre, trying desperately to somehow bridge this gap (some would say exploiting it, others widening it!). The members of the American Society of Theatre Consultants - a stuffy name for a group of people that like to go to nice places a couple of times a year and talk about what they like to do over a few good meals and more than a few drinks- know how very similar these two worlds really are.

Theatre Consultants know that Architects and theatre people both are romantic and idealistic- that they rely on their powers of imagination- and work hard to make their visions come true. Both their palettes include light, color, symbol, form texture, space, and above all ideas. Both struggle with budgets and work in groups of creative specialists: set, costume, and lighting designers, directors-architects, engineers, consultants, and the client. Both put themselves on the line and take big risks. Both suffer when egos and tempers come into play. And both are subjected to the opinions of critics- and everyone's a critic. An architect’s failures are just around a lot longer.

Theatre consultants sometimes noted that theatre building design process is just like putting a successful show together- the best results usually come when the collaborators are all so stimulated by each other, and work so well together, that no one can remember or even cares which idea was whose.

Well, it's time to change all this. Bridge the gap. Usher in a new era of understanding. How? By letting everyone play together, in the Great ASTC Theatre Design Charette.

The Gist

  • The participants are out into interdisciplinary teams which include theatre people and architecture people, as well as ASTC, USITT, and OISTAT people.

  • Each team is given, a design problem, space to work, and some simple materials.

  • Each team designs together.

  • No idea is too outrageous.

  • No drawing is too crude.

  • Time is strictly limited, and at the end everybody has drinks. Maybe even sooner.

  • All of the teams hang their stuff on the wall. Each team explains its ideas to the crowd.

  • There will be a lively and entertaining group discussion as everyone critiques the designs together.

  • Prizes will only be awarded if everyone feels like it.

  • The Stuff will stay up on the walls for the rest of USITT to see.

The Design Problems

Each team will be given a fictional theatre artist to design a theatre for, and a site of some kind for which to develop a "proposal." Several "artists" will be randomly paired with several "sites," so that few teams should have the same problem to work with.

We have tried to invent design problems that raise interesting issues about what theatres are, and how they can be made to suit specific artists or purposes, but are also rich in imagery, and open to all sorts of interpretations.

The only rules are that everyone bring their mind, creative spirit, and sense of humor. The purpose is to have a good time, work together with other creative people, and do something we don't normally get to do: think of great ideas without regard to any practical considerations whatsoever.

For further information, contact one of the following individuals:

* Joshua Dachs, ASTC - (212) 691-3020
* S. Leonard Auerbach, ASTC - (415) 392-7528
* Robert Shook, ASTC - (312) 944-8230
* Tim Hartung - (212) 807-7171

The ASTC Slide Bash: No Secrets, No Inhibitions

Twice each year, the ASTC encourages its members to bring slides- and anything else interesting or unusual- to its meetings to share with their colleagues. Examples have ranged from completed performing arts centers to catwalk details to experiences in theatre going. Each member talks about what she or he had brought, whether it is community fund-raising efforts, or solutions to ADA requirements, or the performance of fire safety systems. The purpose is to illustrate to each other various aspects of our profession and some solutions that we have applied to our practice.

There is no other aspect of our regular meetings that inspires the same degree of anticipation as the Slide Show. We are addicted to it. We have to have it.

So we've decided to invite the rest of the world to join us.

This year the ASTC will host an open slide show at the back-to-back OISTAT 10th World Congress and the USITT 37th Annual Conference in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, March 19, from 6:00 - 11:00 p.m. Anyone attending either conference can bring slides, and is encouraged to do so. ASTC members will present as usual, including some slides from their archives. USITT and OISTAT members are invited to bring and show slides. Handouts and show-and-tell are also welcome. The quantity and length of presentations will be limited according to how many people are standing in line.

The format that has worked best in the past is many short presentations, five minutes and five slides or less. We discourage, but allow, longer presentations. During the sessions, we expect audience and presenters to wander in and out, and we expect the audience to talk, ask questions, and heckle. Food and liquid refreshment will be available throughout.

We encourage brevity, levity, sincerity, frivolity, relevance, redolence, insouciance, pertinence, and impertinence.

Slides are not required; the presentations can be verbal or use other supporting material, such as handouts, books, or posters. Topics might be a recently completed project, old project, interesting detail, old theatre discovered, old theatre demolished, piece of technology, piece of history, news, views, or a surprise. Anything having to do with theatre facilities is fair game.

The intent is quite serious, this is a pre-publication forum to get ASTC members and guests the earliest look at each other's projects and new technology that may take months or years to get to press. It's also an opportunity to share information that might not eve make it to press, for one reason or another.

No manufacturers presenting their own products, please, there are other sessions for that. But please, manufacturers should bring anything else that's interesting. It helps if everyone confirms a time slot with us before the conference, but it's not required. To confirm your attendance, or to ask questions, contact:

* Robert Long, ASTC - (203) 431-3949

* Robert Davis, ASTC - (212) 242-0856

ASTC Examines its mission at Forum 96

ASTC Members gathered for their annual Summer Forum in beautiful, quaint, charming Quebec City on July 26 through 28 at the L'Hotel Du Theatre. Luckily, members had ample opportunity to explore this wonderful city in between sessions, including a tour of Le Capitole Theatre and scheduled dinner aboard the Bateau Mouche for a scenic cruise on the St. Lawrence River.

The primary topics for this Forul were are-examination of the mission of the organization, and (b) planning for the upcoming joint ASTC/OISTAT/USITT meetings in Pittsburgh in March.

There was considerable discussion regarding the Mission of ASTC, although there was no overriding sentiment that the organization should drastically change course. The conversation centered around three topics: membership, funding, and promotion. On the topic of membership, there was a consensus that the current membership criteria be retained, and that recent proposal to create a new "Professional Affiliate" category was not in keeping with the goals of the organization. On the topic of promotion, there was a great deal of support toward pursuit of articles in national publications on two of the more important ASTC projects: influence on national building codes, and the upcoming International Theatre Design Charette.

In the final analysis, the members present felt that the ASTC's mission could be summarized in the following issues:

  • Information exchange between members

  • Influence on codes, standards, products, and processes

  • Promotion of the ASTC and its members

Considerable time was allocated to discussing and organizing the ASTC's participation in the back-to-back conferences of the OISTAT and the USITT in Pittsburgh in March. To that end, we were joined by Tim Harting, Architecture Commissioner of the USITT. The theme of the OISTAT World Congress will be "Visions for the Future" and will have events on Monday and Tuesday, March 17 and 18. The USITT Conference begins on Wednesday, March 19 and runs through March 22. After much discussion, it was decided that ASTC's participations would have three components:

  • Display of ASTC members' completed theatre projects on display boards to be exhibited at both conferences.

  • A theatre design charette, featuring architects, consultants, and other theatre practitioners working on specific program site problems

  • A large-scale slide show, in an informal atmosphere

In addition to the above primary topics, the Quebec City meeting also included other ASTC activities. Montreal-based lift and rigging manufacturer Pierre Gagnon of PACO Corporation was invited to address the membership, and his presentation and the subsequent discussion were very valuable to the members present. There were also several slide presentations by members. Leonard Auerbach presented the demountable orchestra riser system that has been installed at Heinz Hall in Philadelphia, and Diane Waschow presented the in-progress renovation of the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, which will include both Seismic and theatrical improvements. Among the completed theatre projects presented were Strand Street Theatre, Galveston (Jack Hagler); Geary Theatre, San Francisco (Eugene Lietermann); Aronoff Center, Cincinnato (Robert Long); Corbett Auditorium, University of Cincinatti (Robert Long); Jesse Jones Hall, Houston (Duane Wilson); Uihlein Hall, Milwaukee (Duane Wilson and Jim Read); and Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress (Duane Wilson).Jim Read also presented his 3-D construction documents for the Uihlein Hall project. and Michael Mell led a lively discussion on post-bid "value engineering", a discussion which could have lasted well into the evening- and probably did.

Project Report: The Phoenix Orpheum

The Pheonix Orpheum Theatre originally opened in 1929 as a movie palace in every sense of the word, with a lavish and eclectic mixture of architectural styles. Its fortunes waxed and waned, as a movie palace, as a legitimate theatre in the Nederlander chain, and finally, in the 1970's as a Spanish language film house. In the early '80's it was purchased by the City of Phoenix, and in 1985 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1986 the Orpheum went dark.

In 1989 the Orpheum Theatre Foundation was incorporated and a renovation design team was formed, including theatre consultants Landry & Bogan. The project was divided into two phases; Phase 1 included the bulk of the demolition, construction of a new stage house, and a general structural/seismic upgrade. Phase 2 involved complete renovation of the historic interior and exterior of the building, including restoration of the decorative painting and the murals and sky ceiling dome in teh audience chamber. At the same time, the team undertook the design of modern rigging, stage lighting, and A/V systems.

The project had some challenging moments. The original administrative architects filed Chapter 11 in the midst of the project, throwing the entire enterprise into jeopardy. Once the bankruptcy was resolved, the City went forward with the same team, with the Cleveland firm of can Dijk, Pace, Westlake assuming lead position.

Then, David Shupbach, project visionary for the City of Phoenix, passed away. The City of Phoenix personnel who succeeded Shupbach had a different vision for the facility, and much re-budgeting and redesign, particularly of the theatrical systems, occurred. After Phase 1 was completed, the project began Phase 2 construction in 1995 with Joe E. Woods, Inc. as the General Contractor.

Aside from the new theatrical systems and architectural renovation, Phase 2 construction included rebuilding the domed ceiling over the audience chamber, including a new front-of-house lighting bridge recessed into the dome. The control booths were renovated, with new windows and improved sightliness, the atmospheric lighting in the audience chamber was restored, and a new orchestra pit lift and balcony rail and box boom positions were added.

The atmospheric lighting involved restoration of the original dome lighting fixtures-sheet metal troughs with medium screw base sockets- an effects projector locations to facilitate sunset-to-night sky effects on the domed ceiling. In addition, new and renovated lighting fixtures illuminate various decorative arches and alcoves in the audience chamber. Hose lighting was added (the house was originally lighted solely by reflection from the domed ceiling) to bridge light levels up to modern standards. The historic chandeliers in the rear of the orchestra were restored.

The culmination of these eight years of effort by the design team was the gala opening of the facility to the public on January 28, 1997, with a production of Carol Channing in Hello Dolly

ASTC Member News

Robert Davis, Inc.
Robert Davis, Inc. is consulting on two adjacent projects at Indiana university in Bloomington. The 3,700-seat Indiana University Auditorium is a spectacular 1930's road house. The facility is an efficient place for a touring company to spend the extra week need3d to set up a production for the first time and have their shakedown first run. It will be renovated completely.

The Department of Theatre and Drama is next door to the IU Auditorium. Their $25million new facility wll include renovation of an existing 450-seat proscenium theatre, a new 450-seat proscenium theatre, a new 200-seat laboratory theatre, and extensive rehearsal, teaching, shop, and support facilities.

Recent openings include the 700-seat proscenium theatre at Roberts Wesleyan College, in Chili, New York, and the new performing arts center at Creighton Univeristy in Omaha, Nebraska. Ongoing work includes theatres in Sao Paolo, Brazil; Winchester, Virginia; Tucson, Arizona; New Orleans, Louisanal West Chester, Pennsylvania; Trento, New Jersey; New York, New York,; Ithaca, New York; and Dallas, Texas.

Robert Davis, Inc. welcomes new staff member Enrique Limon.

Schuler & Shook, Inc.
Schuler & Shook, Inc. is beginning conceptual design work on the new opera house for the Washington Opera in Washington, D.C. This unusual project centers around the adaptive re-use of the former Woodward & Lothrop department store in downtown Washington into a 2,200-seat opera house. Architect for the projects is Pei Cobb Freed & Partners of New York, New York, and the acoustician is Artec, New York, New York. Anticipated projected completion is 2001.

Other in-progress projects include Empire Theatre, San Antonio, Texas; Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, Illinois; Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hopkins, Minnesota; University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin; Saginaw Valley State University, University Center, Michigan; Harper College, Palatine, Illinois; St. Ignatius College Prep, Chicago, Illinois; and International School of Beijing, Beijing, China.