The key to the development of a successful arts center is in the programming and financial analysis. These are challenging processes that must be addressed prior to defining a viable design or renovation program. They involve critically important decisions with significant economic ramifications, especially if the institution sees the facility as an entrepreneurial opportunity.
In this case, university administrators require not only the guidance of an architect with expertise in theater planning and design, but also a theatrical technical consultant and a financial analyst who specializes in theater. These players must work together to define feasible programs based on clear and secure financial projections for the facility and the community.
Among the questions to be addressed in a needs analysis include: *What are the current and projected enrollments, and needs of the institution's arts programs? *What facilities currently are fulfilling the needs of the program, and what are their shortcomings? *How will the new space fulfill these needs? *Will the new space be used for instruction, practice, student recitals and university functions only? *Is there a desire or need to use the new space to generate revenue from visiting professional theater, music and dance programs?
These issues will in turn define the types of performance spaces that might be considered-singly or in combination. At least four kinds of performance spaces, with a range in audience capacity from 50 to 3,000, are among the options: *Black-box theater, experimental theater or theater in the round. An extremely flexible, informal open space, painted black (concealing exposed ductwork, conduits, etc.), with a flat floor, no stage and no fixed seating, and an audience capacity of 50 to 100. *Recital hall. A space with a small stage, sloped floor and 100 to 150 fixed seats, which begins to incorporate technical disciplines such as acoustics and sight lines. *Music hall or small theater. A space with 350 to 400 seats, including balconies, and designed for musical performances, plays or dance performances. This requires a stage house with greater levels of complexity, including flies (i.e., spaces above the stage for hanging lighting, drop curtains and facilities for raising and lowering sets), an orchestra pit, a more sophisticated sound system and acoustics, and a more sophisticated lighting system. *Concert hall. A 1,000- to 3,000-seat hall, incorporating all the elements of the theater, but at the highest level of requirements. In addition to differences in capacity and size, each performance space has a different set of potential functions and roles. Some of the potential has to do with audience capacity, some with the stage house facilities, and some with the application of new theater technologies.
For example, today's theater-arts technology enables designers to elevate a 150-seat assembly hall-what was traditionally just a lecture hall-to a good performance hall by sloping the seating to yield near-perfect sight lines, adding a 20-foot backstage area and a good sound system.
Move to an arts center The designation of a facility as an arts center is a matter of size and scope, as well as attitude. If the move to a larger-scale arts center is shown by the financial analysis to be marketable and economically feasible, plan on facilities to encourage all of the arts.
In all likelihood, there will be more than one performance space-including a traditional theater, a small recital hall, a black-box theater and, if at all possible, a scene shop. Teaching spaces, such as lecture and conference rooms, music-practice rooms and dance-practice studios, also must be included. A full-fledged arts center may include a public gallery for art exhibitions and rentable studio space for professional artists.
Once the university's objectives have been clarified, an architectural space program should be developed to define what is needed to support these objectives, filling in all of the probable support requirements including electrical, mechanical, theatrical, sound, lighting and acoustics. The theatrical consultant can provide guidance with respect to acoustics, sound systems, lighting and other technical issues. A plan can be created and, through computer-aided design, literally put on the screen to measure feasibility.
Doing the research Another key player is the theatrical financial analyst. Assume a university has identified its needs to include a theater designed to produce revenue through rental bookings (i.e., productions that simply rent the theater and do their own marketing and ticket sales) and/or presentations offered under the university's sponsorship. The analyst provides information gleaned from market research, including the demographics of the potential market and entertainment preferences (e.g., chamber music, opera, symphony, popular music, dance), as well as the nature of the competition.
Theater installations have become so expensive and the theater business so competitive, a thorough analysis is required to reduce the potential for failure. The financial analyst will project ticket values and cost of operation, analyze past revenues and expense patterns, and identify potential additional income streams-bonds, private donors, arts grants or a combination of all three. The feasibility analysis also will examine other arts centers with similar components as models and determine their financial health in the region, and whether the proposed undertaking can compete in the local and regional marketplace.
Finally, once the commitment has been made to building an arts center, there must be one or more experienced theater professionals in place to manage it. Those new theater seats can only bring in revenue if they are fully occupied throughout a successful season of varied programming that meets the needs of the audience.