Advice on Planning and Building Theatre Facility Additions

I wrote in an earlier blog about the new construction at Simpson College’s Blank Performing Arts Center.  As a result of my involvement with this project and a coincidental thread on the Stagecraft Mailing list ( I arrived at the following list of “advice” for those who may need to be involved in the constructions of theatres or theatre additions.  Some of these are personal experience (both positive and negative).  Most of it also reflects wisdom from colleagues (both at my institution and on the stagecraft listserve.

Get a theatrical consultant involved.  If the institution employs this person, he/she will work for the institution.  If this person is employed by the Architect, they are working for the architect and not, necessarily, for the institution.

Make sure that a proper building plan is produced, preferably created by or with significant input from the primary user (perhaps with assistance of a consultant).  This document should describe the objectives of the project and the desired outcomes as well as specific spaces and functions that the project should address.

Use the building plan as a “yardstick” against which to continually “measure” the architectural and engineering proposals and decisions.

Make sure that the primary user is represented at all meetings at which drawings are shared and decisions made.  Preferably, both the consultant and a member of the primary user group would both be involved.  Do not miss a meeting!  Decisions made at these meetings can have significant impact on the success of the project.

The primary user should review the minutes of building meetings to determine that they accurately reflect the user’s understanding of the decisions made and to reflect upon the full implication of those decisions.  Rectify any errors or second-thoughts concerning the accuracy or desirability of decisions and deliberations as soon as possible!

Turn as many theatre-specific construction and finishing details over to the consultant as soon as it is determined that the Architect/Contractor is not adequately experienced with the discipline-specific details.  These might include (but are not limited to):

  • Fire Curtains
  • Theatrical Rigging
  • Theatrical Lifts
  • Auditorium Seating
  • Theatrical Grids
  • Theatrical Lighting (dimming, circuitry, control, fixtures)
  • Flooring for Dance
  • Dance Barres

As a primary user, do your best to imagine, not just what your immediate space and facility needs are, but also imagine and request those needs that you imagine upcoming within the next few years.

Get as many details completely described and articulated in the architectural plans before the bidding process is complete.  Every change from the bid documents is a “Change Request”.  “Change Requests” are almost always accompanied by an additional cost (even when the change request would logically result in a less expensive material, technique or feature).

Assume that any room in the facility might one day be used as a performance space, and plan lighting, power, acoustics, flooring and window coverings accordingly.

You can never have too many electrical outlets in any room.

You can never have too much storage.

Make sure to plan for the inevitable upgrades to the existing facility that will be required to make the existing facility sympathetic with the new addition.

Don’t forget to address any ADA deficiencies that your existing facility might exhibit.  Remember that once the organization spends a certain amount of funds on an addition, any deficiency that might otherwise be “grandfathered in” will be hard to defend following the addition.   Best to make those ADA compliant adjustments with the renovations rather than risk a lawsuit.  These elements might include:

  • Elevators or lifts
  • Auditorium seating suited for wheelchair-bound patrons
  • Braille Signage
  • Assisted Listening Devices
  • Automatic-opening doors
  • Wheelchair compatible toilet stalls with grab-bars
  • Wheelchair-accessible sinks & towel dispensers

Don’t forget to budget for the furnishings and the new technologies that you can imagine needing…because if you don’t get these things with the initial project…it will be that much harder to get the funds immediately after the project is finished.

Don’t forget to budget for signage.

The new facility will change the operation of your institution in ways that you cannot predict.  This will require additional funds over the first year or more to accommodate the changes.

This is hardly comprehensive, but, that’s all for now.

Have fun!  But be safe!



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