The Alliance Theatre has released the final design specs for the $22 million renovation that will mark the first major work on the theater since it was built in 1968, and will send the Alliance on an extended road trip across Atlanta during its 2017-18 season as the theater is rebuilt.
The project will include a complete transformation of the Alliance’s stage, rehearsal spaces, education spaces and the spaces for support staff. But the most visible part of the work will be from the perspective of the audience, with seating closer to the stage and cutting-edge acoustics specifically designed for the spoken word.
“We will completely gut and rebuild the primary space,” artistic director Susan Booth said in a telephone interview yesterday. “The energy you get from the audience when you’re on stage as an actor, that’s a loop. Everything the actors put forward bounces back. Right now, there’s an enormous divide. The audience is very far away, the balcony is almost self-contained.”
Booth said the new space is intended to transform the experience of a theatergoer. “It’s a different DNA,” she said. “I’ve never been a fan of ‘We’re over here and you’re over there sitting in your seat.’ In our design renderings, it’s a room that pays attention to everyone being of equal value, and everyone is connected in equal terms.”
A major part of that is the sound in the room. “The acoustics are being designed to within an inch of their life,” Booth said. “It is mathematically calculated to reflect the spoken word.”
The Alliance Theatre’s renovation is part of the first phase of the Woodruff Arts Center’s Transformation Campaign. The $100-million campaign has three goals: to strengthen the endowments of the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and High Museum of Art; to bring more free community programming to the Woodruff campus; and to retool the Alliance Theatre. To date, the Arts Center has raised $83 million towards the first phase goal.
The Alliance renovations were designed by Trahan Architects of New York City. Among the firm’s previous projects are the Louisiana State Museum, the Dallas City Performance Hall, the Chicago Symphony Center and renovations on the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina.
Victor F. “Trey” Trahan, the firm’s founder, said the goal for the Alliance is to create a space that fosters connection and community between the audience and the stage. “The entire audience chamber is tightened and slipped closer to the stage, amplifying the sense of intimacy,” he said in a press release.
The theater was built in 1968 as part of the Woodruff campus. Much has changed since then, from technical advances to the shifting role of the Alliance itself. The genesis of the plans began during the theater’s 45th season.
Booth convened a group to ponder a single question: Who do we want to be when we turn 50? “My thought was, let’s dream big and don’t worry about the time or the money,” she said. “And one thing we identified was a world-class theater that welcomed everyone, that removed visible and invisible barriers. We had the courage of our aspirations. And the question became: How do we get there?”
The renovations will also include parts of the theater the public never sees: dressing rooms, green rooms and a catwalk above the stage that will give lighting flexibility the theater has lacked.
In addition, a space for support staff will be located on the facility’s fourth floor. “The building in no way honors the contributions those folks make,” Booth said. “We have artisans who handcraft our costumes. Right now, they’re working in the basement. They’ll move to the fourth floor where there’s actual daylight and they can see the colors they’re working with.”
Work is scheduled to be completed in time for the Alliance’s 50th anniversary in 2018-19. And for the 49th season, the Alliance will send its 12 productions on the road to 12 different venues.
“We’ll be on a long field trip,” Booth quipped. “Only once in an organization’s life do you get an opportunity like this. Our patrons have loyally supported us for decades by making the trek to Midtown. It’s a change to return the favor and go all over Atlanta.”
Officials are currently looking at alternative venues and are in talks with several locations to host productions, including the Ferst Center for the Arts, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, the Estate, the Conant Performing Arts Center at Oglethorpe University and the Southwest Arts Center. Booth said it’s also possible that the Alliance might perform outdoor “pop-up” shows.
“We want to pick shows that will resonate with the particular neighborhood or part of the city that we’ll be in,” Booth said.
Booth said that as the theater’s 50th year approaches, the time was right to retool and modernize its theater. But unlike a certain baseball team, there was never any thought given to moving out of the center of Atlanta.
“I love our Midtown home,” Booth said. “I love that we live on this campus with other arts organizations and that the city’s arts leaders got together years ago and saw the need for a central home to the arts. Those are shoulders we stand on, and we’re profoundly lucky to have that legacy. “