Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cleveland Play House: Annual General Meeting and Allen Theater Tour

For the past two days I've been pretty much nonfunctional -- I suspect it's the final vestages what I had a few weeks back rearing its ugly head. The good news is that by this afternoon the headache had receeded to the point where I felt like a mostly functional member of society, and it was none too soon as I've been looking forward to tours of the Cleveland Play House's new theatres and I just barely made it. (And I failed completely to remember to ask Mr. Bloom or Mr. Moore the programming-related questions I intended to ask)

General Meeting, in the Westfield Insurance Studio Theater: Nothing too suprising here, but some highlights

  • The playhouse will be offering an open house on September 12 with tours of the completed spaces*

  • The theaters have been described as a five-year project executed in 18 months.

  • Artistic Director Michael Bloom wants to venture into more adventerous programming , and sees subscription sales as the avenue to that end.

  • To say that the subscription sales mantra was repeated ad nauseum is a borderline understatement.

  • That said, it looks like subscription sales to date have been strong based on seating charts on display.

  • Mr. Bloom promises the best Cleveland Play House season in several years, with some bold choices, but also opportunites for more conservative patrons.

  • There are fewer than 59 calendar days remaining until the first main stage production begins previews.

  • The Power of Three campaign (linking Cleveland State University, PlayhouseSquare, and the Cleveland Play House) has "identified" $23 million towards a goal of $32 million with 9 gifts of $1m or more. The younger advancement campaign has raised $2m towards $12m.

  • Several negative comments were made from the lectern ("2 years ago the Play House was on the brink of extinction" and that over the years the Play House had evolved an "unsustainable economic model") but those comments were rearward-looking, and the forward-looking comments were pretty rosey.

Also introduced, a new Play Dates program. While it is not what I originally thought based on the name and one of my oft-repeated complaints when I was single (that is, a theater going option for singles) -- instead, I think it's equally attractive for a different demographic: At selected mattinees, you bring your children to the theater and they are entertained and educated in a separate space with age-appropriate materials while you take in a play. The cost is only $15 per child per play, and it will be available for one matinee of each show in the season.

Allen Theater Tour: I was excited to get into the Allen for the first time today, but I was a little disappointed that there wasn't earlier access: I thrive on open studs and incomplete framing, and the Allen Theater itself is suprisingly complete. I'm a tad skeptical that it will be completed on time* but it actually looks pretty promising.

(If you want to skip my blabber and see a few photos I didn't blab about, see the Flicker Photo Set here)

Entering through the Euclid Avenue lobby, the scars of the thankfully-demolished box office (it was a in a horrid configuration) are still on the floor. It is unclear where the new box office will be located
Scars on the floor where the wretched Allen box office used to stand

While a Cleveland Play House board member or staffer (I failed to grab his name) described plans that are being discussed to make the Euclid Avenue lobby feel more contemporary without compromising the historic integrity:

A CPH Staffer (Board member?) describes options to update the lobby without destroying historic integrityThe intracate celing detail in the Euclid Avenue lobby is still in tact

Walking into the elipse rotunda, and passing through a combination-locked construction door, Artistic Director Michael Bloom provdes a glimpse of the new lounge-like lobby (the plasticed doorway leads to the new theaters that are being created and the space I was most looking forward to seeing, he also commented that to the best of his knowledge this is the only contemporary theater that preserves the shell of the historic outer theater, as most designers will want to gut the building and start from scratch.

Interior Lobby of new Allen Theater

The doors in the center of the frame lead to the House Left and House Right seating areas.

Drywall is up and doors to the house can be seen on either side

In the house, my first impression is that this will, inded, be infinitely better than any of the Play House's spaces at 8500 Euclid. I had my doubts, but standing in the still-unfinished space everything comes together--it's also a much more intimate house than the former Allen. (Interesting tidbit: The house floor has been raised "several feet" from the original floor level to give the house a more live-theater-like rake than the moviehouse-like rake that had previously existed) Accoustical wall treatments are up, and made from perforated metal: If backlit, the historic details of the walls will be visible; if forelit, the theater will take on a decidedly contemporary appearance:

Perforated metal accoustical treatments update the interior

Meanwhile, accoustic clouds have been mounted below the ceiling, allowing you a decent view of the historic details above. The modifications have been designed to be completely reversable, so in 30 years if there was a desire to, it could be restored to historic accuracy:
The beautiful original ceiling details are preserved above new accoustical clouds

The edge of the new balcony; the new balcony is built completely in front of and independent of the orginal 800-seat balcony, something I hadn't realized before today:

Edge of the new Allen balcony

Of course, the new control booth -- I'd love to see inside after the work is finished

Light shining out of the new control booth

After leaving the Allen theater proper, Associate Artistic Director Laura Kepley enthusiastically (seriously: she was moving fast enough that every one of the pictures I got had some evidence of motion blur) describing the construction for the other two stages behind the temporary construction wall. Alas, we were not taken behind the wall.
Associate Artistic Director Laura Kepley excitedly discusses secondary stages

There are more photos in the Flickr Set at Here, but I think that covers the basics.


*- Hey, dealing with construction is a big part of my day job (and the reason I own my own hard hat, thankyouverymuch) and I can't think of one of those projects where construction was completed on time.

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