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AT&T PERFORMING ARTS CENTER DEE AND CHARLES WYLY THEATRE
Dallas, Texas

KEY AWARDS American Institute of Architects, National Honor Award, 2011; American Council of Engineering Companies, National Gold Award, 2010; American Institute of Steel Construction, IDEAS² Award, 2010; U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology, National Honor Award, 2012
CLIENT AT&T Performing Arts Center
PROGRAM 575-seat ‘multi-form’ theater with the ability to transform between proscenium, thrust, arena, traverse, studio, and flat floor configurations with only a small crew in a few hours; and to open the performance space to its urban surroundings
AREA 7,700 m² (80,300 sf)
COST $354 million (project) for the entire AT&T Performing Arts Center, which included the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, the Annette Strauss Artists Square, and the Elaine D. and Charles A. Sammons Park
STATUS Completed October 2009
DESIGN ARCHITECT REX | OMA
KEY PERSONNEL Joshua Ramus (Partner in Charge) and Rem Koolhaas, with Erez Ella, Vincent Bandy, Vanessa Kassabian, Tim Archambault
EXECUTIVE ARCHITECT Kendall Heaton Associates
CONSULTANTS Cosentini, DHV, Donnell Consultants, Front, HKA, Magnusson Klemencic Associates, McCarthy Construction, McGuire, Pielow Fair, Plus Group, Quinze & Milan, Theatre Projects Consultants, Tillotson Design, Transsolar, 2×4

Dallas’ former Arts District Theatre (ADT) cultivated innovative theater rarely seen outside the triumvirate of New York, Chicago, and Seattle. Ironically, ADT’s artistic success can be traced to its provisional character. A dilapidated metal shed, ADT freed its resident companies from the limitations imposed by a fixed-stage configuration and the need to protect expensive interior finishes. Its users avidly challenged the traditional conventions of theater and routinely reconfigured the form of the stage to fit their artistic visions, the only limiting factor being the cost of labor and materials. As a result, the ‘multi-form’ ADT was renowned at its height as the most flexible theater in America.

Over time, however, the costs of constantly reconfiguring ADT’s stage became an insurmountable financial burden and eventually it was fixed into a ‘thrust-cenium.’

Imagining ADT’s replacement raised several distinct challenges. First, like a restaurant renovation which must avoid polishing out the character that made the original establishment successful, the new theater needed to engender the same freedoms created by the makeshift nature of ADT. Otherwise, the new building would stifle the creativity that made ADT and its users renowned. Second, the new venue needed to be flexible and multi-form while requiring minimal operational costs. 

The Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre overcomes these challenges by overturning conventional theater design. Instead of circling front-of-house and back-of-house functions around the auditorium and fly tower, the Wyly Theatre stacks these facilities below-house and above-house.

This unprecedented stacked design transforms the building into a ‘theater machine’ that…

…1. extends the technologies of the fly tower and stage…

…into the auditorium…

…to provide an infinite variety of stage configurations;…

…2. liberates the performance chamber’s perimeter to allow direct contact with the urban surroundings; and…

…3. manifests a strong presence in the Dallas Arts District despite its relatively modest size.

By adapting proven technologies for new uses, the Wyly Theatre can be altered into a wide array of configurations—including proscenium, thrust, arena, traverse, studio, and flat floor configurations—with only a small crew in a few hours. Directors and scenic designers are empowered to select or invent the stage-audience configuration that fulfills their artistic desires, facilitating experimentation.

Each of the three 135-ton balcony towers, both stair towers, and the proscenium can be repositioned or lifted out of sight using sporting arena scoreboard lifts.

The ground plane can change height, tilt, or rotate using stage technology adapted from opera houses, to facilitate different stage or orchestra-level seating configurations.

The performance chamber is intentionally made of materials that are not precious to encourage alterations; the stage and auditorium surfaces can be cut, drilled, painted, welded, sawed, nailed, glued, and stitched at limited cost.

Stacking the Wyly Theatre’s ancillary facilities above- and below-house also liberates the performance chamber’s entire perimeter. No longer separated by transitional and technical zones—such as lobbies, ticket counters, and backstage facilities—fantasy and reality can mix when and where desired.

Directors can incorporate the Dallas skyline and streetscape into performances at will, as the auditorium is enclosed by an acoustic glass façade with optional black-out blinds…

…and panels that can be opened to allow patrons or performers to enter the auditorium directly from outside,…

…bypassing the downstairs drop-off…

…and lobby.

By investing in infrastructure that allows ready transformation and liberating the performance chamber’s perimeter, the Wyly Theatre grants its artistic directors freedom to determine the entire theater experience, from audience arrival to performance configuration to departure. 

On a Friday night, patrons can share Lear’s sorrow in a dark and quiet thrust theater.

The next day—against the dramatic backdrop of the Dallas cityscape—the audience can join Vladimir and Estragon in their vigil for Godot in a proscenium auditorium now stripped of its comforting cocoon.

To increase company cohesion, back-of-house spaces dedicated to performers and administrators are intertwined above-house.

The patron’s lounge—which doubles as a second lobby—is connected to…

…the small rehearsal room, which doubles as a black box theater.

Both are looked upon by a conference room…

…that can serve as a control booth for the black box theater, and which is connected to the administrative offices above. The administrative offices adjoin…

…the costume shop, which can be viewed from…

…the education room, adjacent to…

…an outdoor terrace on the 9th floor, that serves as an exterior break-out area for…

…the main rehearsal room, which has access to…

…a collective bar and terrace for the entire company with panoramic views over the city.

Image Credits: 1, 6, 7, 9, 10, 14, 15, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32: Iwan Baan; 11, 12: Theatre Projects Consultants; 20, 21: Luxigon; 17, 29: Tim Hursley

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