Audience Gets First Look At Pote Theatre During Arts Center Renovation

I sit now in a darkened theatre to the strains of Benjamin Britten played on a slightly out-of-tune upright piano during a piano tech of Music At Simpson’s production of Albert Herring.  Tomorrow is opening night, and the patrons of the production will be the first to sit in the new auditorium seats in Pote theatre of the Blank Performing Arts Center.  The renovation has been in some ways a protracted and in other ways a whirlwind process.  And we are still quite in the midst of it.

Blank Performing Arts Center was designed during the waning years of the 1960s and opened to audiences in the early 1970s.  Just in time for newly raised concerns about accessibility to render many of the design decisions that went into conceptualizing the theatre problematic.  At the time a then-vibrant academic theatre department was moved into residence in a facility that featured miniscule faculty offices and two small classrooms that doubled as recording studios for a never-realized film or video program.  Take some of this with a grain of salt as this was well before my time and all that I relate up to this point comes from oral history and filling-in around the edges of stories and anecdotes related to me over the years.

Fast forward to 2001.  Very little had changed.  The theatre department had struggled along, slowly adding faculty and staff and students…but with no increase in the facilities.  The video studio classrooms had long since been converted into a single large space in which most of the departmental classes that required chalkboard or work surfaces were held.  The lobby had since memory began been used for acting and directing classes.  The faculty and staff had expanded to occupy offices that had once been coatrooms or odd corners of the costume shop.

That year, I wrote what became the building plan under circumstances that I related in an earlier post.  In summer of 2010 following the Des Moines Metro Opera’s 2010 season we broke ground on an addition to the south of the existing Blank Performance Art Center.  Construction went slowly through the fall despite fair weather.  Trouble with the excavation.  Trouble with the fill material.  Trouble with the steel fabricator.  Trouble with the pre-cast.  It was supposed to be under roof by mid-December.  It was late January before this occurred.

Meanwhile, the Pote Theatre was marked for renovation.  This was largely because of the long-delayed obligation to accommodate disabled patrons in accordance with ADA regulation.  The original seating was tired and worn out.  More about that later.  Below is the text of a sign that I composed to place in the half-renovated lobby to thank Albert Herring’s patrons for their patience and to inform them of what they have to look forward to:

A NOTE TO PATRONS:

THE FACULTY AND STAFF OF THEATRE SIMPSON WISH TO WELCOME YOU TO THE BLANK PERFORMING ARTS CENTER FOR THIS PRODUCTION OF ALBERT HERRING PRESENTED BY THE STUDENTS AND FACULTY OF MUSIC AT SIMPSON.

WE HOPE THAT YOU WILL JOIN US IN OUR EXCITEMENT OVER THE ONGOING IMPROVEMENTS TO THE FACILITY.  YOU WILL BENEFIT FROM SOME OF THESE UPGRADES TODAY.

THE MOST OBVIOUS CHANGE INCLUDES THE INSTALLATION NEW, COMFORTABLE AUDITORIUM SEATS IN A FRESH PALATE OF AUTUMNAL COLORS.  NEW CARPETING AND STEP LIGHTING GRACE THE AUDITORIUM AS WELL AS SPECIAL SEATING FOR THE CONVENIENCE OF WHEELCHAIR ENABLED PATRONS.  BE SURE TO ADMIRE THE FINISHES IN THE NEWLY UPDATED BATHROOMS!

LESS VISIBLE, BUT ALSO CONTRIBUTING TO TODAY’S PERFORMANCE IS AN EXTENSIVE UPGRADE OF THE THEATRICAL LIGHTING SYSTEM AND NEW MASKING DRAPES OF INHERENTLY FLAME RETARDANT FABRIC FOR ENHANCED SAFETY.

ONGOING IMPROVEMENTS TO THE FACILITY INCLUDE FURTHER ENHANCEMENTS TO THE AUDITORIUM, AN ENLARGED LOBBY, THE INTRODUCTION OF ELEVATOR SERVICE TO ALL PATRON LEVELS OF THE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, THE TRIPLING OF BATHROOM CAPACITY, AND THE PROVISION OF CLASSROOM AND DEPARTMENTAL ADMINISTRATION FACILITIES.  ALL OF THIS IS BEING UNDERTAKEN WITH SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS IN MIND.

THANKS TO A FORWARD-LOOKING ADMINISTRATION AND BOARD, MANY GENEROUS DONORS, SVPA ARCHITECTS, GRAHAM CONSTRUCTION AND THE MULTITUDE OF CONTRACTORS WORKING ON THE PROJECT FOR THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE BLANK PERFORMING ARTS CENTER ADDITION -PHASE 1-.

SPECIAL THANKS TO YOU, OUR PATRONS FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING AND SUPPORT AS WE CONTINUE TO UPGRADE THIS FACILITY FOR FUTURE PATRONS AND UPCOMING SEASONS.

That’s all for now.

Have fun (after all, they don’t call it a play for nothing).  But be safe!

SJM

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