Engaging Theater Patrons, From the Street to the Seat
Rima Namek, AIA, LEED GA
December 22, 2017
It should come as no surprise that theater groups know how to create drama.
As architects, we find that the creativity and skills our theater clients bring to our design projects extend well beyond the stage itself. These artists understand that the entire venue can be used to build anticipation and excitement for audiences of all ages—from their curbside arrival to the moment they reach their seat.
Everyman Theatre: Embracing History with Forward-Looking Design
At Everyman Theatre, where we transformed a circa-1911 Vaudeville house into a new performance venue for Baltimore’s acclaimed repertory group, the experience begins as visitors arrive at the theater’s Westside arts district location. While the Greek colonnaded exterior was carefully restored to its former splendor, we also added expanses of glass along the façade to animate the building from the street, providing lively displays and views of the activity within the lobby spaces. We also added a second entrance to further enliven the building’s street presence, and created a new plaza for outdoor café seating and pre-function events. Vintage marquee signage, banners, and dramatic LED lighting that illuminates historical elements along the façade all combine to create a bold identity for this restored downtown icon.
Inside, the main and upstairs lobbies are emboldened with storytelling “feature walls” that capture Everyman Theatre’s process and history. Conceived in collaboration with the troupe’s stage designer, these dynamic images include vintage sketches of costumes and stage sets, as well as oversized panels with portraits of the resident actors. Custom-designed light sconces also depict the faces of the actors, an unexpected and eye-catching feature that engages visitors as they stroll through the public spaces.
We added a mezzanine level with a lounge and concessions space, and a large meeting room that doubles as education space. Both lobby levels are flexibly designed to serve as much more than queuing space for the theater, allowing for social interaction, receptions and special events, panel discussions, and informal exploration of the captivating visual displays.
Technology Front and Center at Baltimore Center Stage
Another venue that embraces the full scope of the visitor experience is the legendary Baltimore Center Stage. When this mid-19th-century gem was restored, 21st-century technology took the leading role. We worked closely with our client to bring contemporary stagecraft tools into the project, beginning with theatrical, DMX-controlled, RGB LED lighting along the façade to add drama to the visitor’s sense of arrival. Inside, advanced multimedia technology animates the lobby areas, which serve as dynamic, ever-changing spaces that engage patrons with vibrant lighting, video projection, and colorful displays.
A “wall of words” featuring famous quotations from plays has become a favorite interactive element, with patrons guessing the plays each quote is from. White surfaces throughout serve as backdrops for the state-of-the-art projection system, showcasing new productions, photos, sketches, and the words of celebrated playwrights, actors, and directors.
The sensitive restoration has enabled the building’s warm patina to shine through as a unique setting for the cutting-edge multimedia effects. Again, all of the public spaces are designed to inform, entertain, and allow for social interaction and conversation, as well as special events.
Attracting a New Generation of Patrons
As theaters and cultural organizations strive to boost attendance and attract a new generation of patrons, we should all take our cue from these award-winning success stories. These venues are helping to attract more diverse audiences and newcomers to the theater, with patrons spreading the word by posting on social media and documenting their pre-event experiences with photos that feature these impactful, highly visual spaces as backdrops. Through these architectural experiences, we’ve learned our most important lines: design for flexibility, use every space to tell the story, and build excitement. Be creative and set the stage for an entertaining experience, from the first moment to the last!