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Take a Bow

Take a Bow

Creating performing-arts centers that enrich communities and campuses.

From the undulating landscape of eastern Ohio's Tuscarawas County, known to locals as the “Tuscarawas Valley,” a facility soon will rise that is as enticing as the performances it will stage. Its glass and metal facade will curve around brick and stone volumes to complement the community's historic architecture, and stimulate the development of Kent State University Tuscarawas in New Philadelphia, Ohio. But the 50,000-square-foot performing-arts center will bring much more than entertainment. “As a world-class venue, the performing- arts center will promote the economic vitality of the entire region,” says Gregory Andrews, dean. “It will also enrich our music, theater and dance programs.”

The Kent State Tuscarawas story exemplifies a performing-arts center's potential to culturally and financially invigorate a community and campus. Performing-arts centers can provide benefits at the high school and collegiate levels, and administrators can take steps now to get the show started.

A profitable centerpiece

When a new performing-arts center comes to town, local businesses profit. Events and performances draw visitors to the community.

The community performing-arts center also can prompt the cultural enrichment of a region. The play that the high school English class studies becomes much more influential when the class attends a performance at the nearby college. Families have the opportunity to enjoy the theatergoing experience together.

Additionally, a performing-arts center offers opportunities for shared use. A college or university can open up its theater to K-12 school districts and community cultural organizations. Nearby businesses have more opportunities to attend or host conferences, and entertain clients. Similarly, a high school may share its performing-arts center with community organizations.

A flexible economic engine

Ideally, a performing-arts center will play many roles: entertainment venue, gathering space, resource for working professionals and learning hub. As a revenue generator, the facility should be booked as much as possible. Flexibility, combined with a smart design, will enable the facility to have a strong economic impact.

Besides the financial benefits, a performing-arts center can enhance the fine-arts curriculum, especially in terms of production. Students can use a performance auditorium to get hands-on experience with catwalks, lighting, sets and audiovisual technology.

Performing-arts centers also can contribute to an expansion of programs in music, theater and dance. Lecturers and professional productions provide students more educational opportunities. And, a performing-arts center's design quality may help a student decide to attend a particular college.

Functional considerations

Education institutions that envision a performing-arts center may want to commission a demographic analysis of the surrounding community and beyond. This helps them define the types of events the center will accommodate: plays, dance performances, lectures, concerts, comedy shows.

The more precise the projected uses, the more effective the center will be. For instance, the types of music performances to be staged in the facility will influence the acoustic design. Other considerations: size of the institution related to demand and use, the community's culture and proximity to other major performing-arts venues. All these components affect the way a building is budgeted and planned.

Theater support space also depends on anticipated use: a facility designed to accommodate traveling road shows may require more elaborate dressing and green rooms. If the intent is to create a strong tie to the academic curriculum, the performing-arts center will need the teaching and practice spaces, equipment and infrastructure to make it a learning tool.

Projected use of the performing-arts center affects the lobby, too. In addition to functioning as a gathering space, the lobby can accommodate banquets, conferences and receptions. It may need to be equipped with catering and food-service support space.

The selection of team members also affects the center's success. Administrators may want to add audiovisual, acoustic and lighting systems consultants to their cast of architects and engineers.

Aesthetic matters

As a hub of culture, education and artistic expression, the exemplary performing-arts center energizes its campus and its community. It demands an aesthetically pleasing design.

In addition to size and technology, the budget affects aesthetic choices such as massing and materials. Administrators must prioritize items that relate to how the facility addresses the campus and community and its desired image.

Education institutions can create a riveting performing-arts center without spending a fortune. For instance, if a budget rules out a full glass facade, creative use of aluminum panels can help create an inspiring statement. Fly towers can be clad in cost-effective precast concrete and articulated with aluminum fins. These materials cost less, yet still give the institution a high-quality image. Another way of managing costs is to incorporate more high-level finishes in public spaces than in private, or “back of house,” areas.

Extending the performance

A performing-arts center holds the power to not only enhance a performance, but also spark the theatergoing experience long before the curtain opens.

The experience begins as early as when the building is approached. The materials, shapes and lighting that compose the facade can build anticipation for the experience that lies within. Performing-arts centers with a sculptural quality announce the energy and drama of the performing arts. A series of curved and straight walls made of precast concrete and reflective metal contrast to a fly tower built of velvety red brick.

Another important consideration is how a theater appears at night, when most performances occur. For instance, a glowing glass lobby wall and window slots articulated in the metal can reflect the energy within the space. A large window above an entry can build excitement by illuminating imagery relating to the performance.

The facility's ability to affect the theatergoing experience carries into the lobby. It should be an elegant, uplifting space that encourages interaction.

The final physical stage in the spectator's journey is the house, the locus of the theatergoing experience. Every seat must have a good view of the stage. Through its interior design and seating arrangements, the performing-arts center can connect patrons with the performance.

Spitzer, AIA, LEED AP, is a senior design director at Chicago-based Legat Architects and Columbus, Ohio-based Legat & Kingscott. He can be reached at (312)756-1261 or [email protected]. Ogurek, LEED AP, is a member of the K-12 education and higher-education teams at Legat Architects and Legat & Kingscott. He can be reached at (847)406-1141 or [email protected].

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