Three Extraordinary Openings

October 14, 2004

During the last two weeks of September, three extraordinary and very different theatre complexes opened for which Theatre Projects Consultants was the theatre design and stage technology consultant. Each project will have a very distinct impact on its respective community. Here is a closer look at these new venues.

Overture Center has grand opening

From Saturday, September 18 through Sunday, September 26, the citizens of Madison, Wisconsin held a grand celebration to inaugurate the new crown jewel of their arts district, the Overture Center for the Arts.

The Overture Center represents the first phase of a two-phase project that will result in a large and modern cultural arts district in the heart of downtown Madison. The Overture Project began in 1998 with a $50 million gift from local philanthropist, W. Jerome Frautschi. Phase Two is due to be completed in 2006, at which time, Mr. Frautschi and his wife, Pleasant Rowland Frautschi, will have personally funded the entire project with a contribution of $205 million. This is believed to be one of the largest individual gifts to the arts in US history.

Overture Hall is the principal performance space in the Center. It is a lush, multi-purpose space seating 2,250 on four levels with flawless sightlines and excellent acoustics. This is the new home for the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Opera, Madison Ballet, and the Broadway Show series. A distinctive feature of the hall is the Madison Symphony Organ built into the back wall of the orchestra shell in a wave-like pattern of more than 4,000 pipes. The organ, the shell side walls, and its mobile steel enclosure weighing 175 tons can travel down stage and in to position on a custom built railroad track bed in the floor. This trip takes only 20 minutes and is accomplished without any vibration to the organ.

Other performance venues in Overture Hall include the Rotunda Stage (below), home to Kids in the Crossroads, a popular children's series; Promenade Hall, a flexible studio theatre, seating 273 and ideal for dance, and large scale rehearsals, and Wisconsin Studio, a large open space for intimate shows, lectures, receptions, and banquets.

Theatre Projects Consultants was the theatre consultant and provided the concept designs of the performance spaces, seating and sightline calculation, stage lighting and rigging systems, specialized stage machinery, including the organ track system. The architect for Overture Hall is Cesar Pelli Associates of New Haven, CT. Acoustical consultant is Kirkegaard Associates of Chicago, IL. The TPC team was led by Gene Leitermann, project manager, and included Brian Hall, Michael Nishball, Cy Almey, Michael Patterson, Robert Young, Jim Niesel, John Runia, and Heather Burrows.

Phase Two of the Overture Project will include renovation of the Capitol Theatre to serve as a mid-sized (1,000 seats) performance space for music ensembles, dance, and drama. The Playhouse (formally the Isthmus Playhouse) will be enlarged to 350 seats around a thrust stage. It will be the new home for the Madison Repertory Theatre.

New arts center for University of Notre Dame - five performance venues

The Marie P. DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Notre Dame held its opening concert on September 18, 2004 in the 900-seat Leighton Concert Hall. It is the largest of five performance spaces, making up this 150,000 square foot center that will now serve as a home to most campus music, drama, and film events. Leighton Hall is equipped with an acoustic canopy over the platform, absorbent panels in the roof and flying fabric banners, all of which can be moved and adjusted by computer to vary the acoustic environment.

The center also includes the Patricia George Decio Mainstage Theatre, a 350-seat traditional proscenium theatre with a proscenium arch that can be reduced to a 32 foot width or expanded to 42 feet. There is an orchestra pit on a lift that can also form a front stage extension. The theatre is equipped with state-of-the-art lighting, rigging and sound systems.

The Michael Browning Family Cinema seats 200. It is equipped with a sophisticated THX sound system and is the only THX-certified cinema in Indiana. It is equipped to show films in 35mm, 16mm, DVD, VHS, and digital projection formats.

The Regis Philbin Studio Theatre is a space outfitted with maximum flexibility for experimental productions. Seating and playing area can be anywhere in the room. A matrix of overhead catwalks allows unlimited lighting and suspension possibilities. It is an intimate room that can seat around 100. This space will function as a theatre lab for the Notre Dame drama program.

The fifth space in the DeBartolo Center is the tall, narrow, 100-seat Chris and Anne Reyes Organ and Choral Hall. Designed specifically for the performance of sacred music, it has a cathedral-like quality and matching acoustics that make it ideal for the choirs and choral groups of Notre Dame. Towering over the performance platform is the Fritts Organ - a magnificent, hand-crafted organ built in the German style of the 1700s.

The DeBartolo Center also includes a soundstage, rehearsal halls, a recording studio, scenery and costume shops, editing studios, classrooms, and department offices. The architect for this $64 million project was Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer and Associates in Los Angeles. The acoustician was McKay Conant & Brook.

As the theatre consultant, Theatre Projects Consultants provided the design concepts for each performance space. TPC was also responsible for all stage technology systems in the center, including lighting, rigging, stage engineering, and adjustable acoustic devises. Benton Delinger and David Taylor served as TPC project managers. Other team members included Brian Hall, Michael Nishball, Michael Ferguson, Liz Diaz, Michael Patterson, Robert Young, Jim Niesel and John Runia.

Kirk Douglas Theatre opens in Los Angeles 

The famed Center Theatre Group and their founding artistic director, Gordon Davidson, celebrated the opening of a new theatre in Culver City, California on September 30th. Heading up the opening night events was film star Kirk Douglas whose major donation launched the fundraising for the theatre and for whom the theatre is named.

The Kirk Douglas Theatre was created within the framework of a historic movie theatre and will serve as the third venue for CTG productions. It is a smaller, mid-sized theatre that will primarily be used for new plays and productions for young audiences. Performances take place on an "end-stage" in front of audience seating for 300.

Over a period of many years Theatre Projects Consultants worked with Davidson and CTG to develop the ideas for a third venue. For the Kirk Douglas, TPC furnished design concepts for the theatre and backstage areas, seating and sightline layouts, as well as the design of the technical systems, including production lighting and stage rigging. David Rosenburg served as project manager for TPC.

The architect for the project was Steven Ehrlich Architects of Culver City. Ehrlich refurbished the 1940s-style exterior of the movie theatre and retained the original marquee and tower sign.

Three Extraordinary Openings
Credit: Frans Swarte
Three Extraordinary Openings
Credit: Tim Griffith
Three Extraordinary Openings
Credit: Elon Schoenholz