Turn A Theatre Over An See What Drops Out

Over the last few months I have been serving on a subcommittee advising the Salvation Army on the theatre section of the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center they plan to build with a portion of the $15 billion the widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc bequeathed to them.

The scope of the entire project which will also include immense athletic facilities, swimming pools, classrooms and daycare, is frankly intimidating so I am glad I am only focused on the performance space planning.

The San Diego facility providing a prototype for the local project was built while Mrs. Kroc was alive. She set very high standards for the project mandating that the normally modest Salvation Army cut no corners. The Salvation Army has some tough decisions to make given that while they want to spread the money around to as many communities as possible, they also need to allocate enough to each to satisfy her wishes.

I think she would be pleased to know that the center will be placed directly adjacent to a burgeoning community that will derive immense benefit from all the services it will provide.

On a related topic, at least three people on the Kroc Center subcommittee, myself included, have been approached by consultants hired by another organization planning to build a theatre nearby. I had been contacted a year earlier by another consultant who was engaged to put a business plan together. After a long discussion I told her I felt one phase of the plan would be valuable to the community but that a second phase was dicey because people didn’t realize what resources were required to run a theatre well. She called me back at the end of her study and essentially told me she agreed.

The second consultant told me they were just double checking the information from the first consultant. Later I wondered if the first consultant hadn’t given her employers the answer they wanted when another arts leader told me the second consultant was trying to persuade him to urge their employers to scale back the project. I wonder if like those living outside Phoenix, the residents of that neighborhood don’t identify with the city core.

I reference this second case not only because I have been pondering if it aligns with the findings of the Rand Corporation regarding arts environments in places like Phoenix, but also to note the different processes organizations go through in construction planning. I don’t know if depending on a consultant is better than putting together a committee of professionals or not. Consultants are probably less likely to have potential conflicts of interest with a project but can impart more sagacious advice based on experience.

Frankly, I was a little concerned that I wasn’t qualified to advise the Salvation Army until I learned the plan had to be vetted by the state, regional, national and international headquarters.

One of the interesting things about serving on the Kroc Center subcommittee is that the people we were advising had no preconceived notions about how the theatre would be used other than wanting to hold a few religious services. At the first committee meeting we were told to outfit the building with everything we wished our theatres had. Most of the meeting was spent with the committee members asking questions about the core purpose of the facility– producing, presenting, rentals, support of the arts classes– with the Salvation Army staff member assigned to us scribbling everything down to pose to her superiors.

By the second meeting the organization had clarified their thoughts in relation to all of our questions and suggestions about the niches the space might fit. It appears they intend to primarily rent the facility to interested parties. This suits me well since the facility will be in my geographic proximity. They won’t compete with my presenting activities but will provide a place for me to refer renters I have to turn away for lack of available dates.

One of the things that impressed me was that they are truly planning for the needs of the community rather than their organization. For example, the seating capacity needed to serve the potential community users will probably exceed attendance at their services for the foreseeable future by a fair amount leaving a lot of empty seats.

There is one more meeting in this phase of the planning and this time we committee members have homework. We have been asked to review three space designs, mostly pertaining to square feet allocated for different rooms and comment on whether it is sufficient for the proposed uses of the facility. We have also been asked to staff the facility with employees and volunteers and generate a list of all the furniture, fixtures and equipment that would fall out if you took the roof off and turned it over.

It has been quite entertaining imagining what would fall out if a giant child caming along, opened the roof of my theatre like a dollhouse’s and inverted it. Given that the assistant theatre manager’s niece turned one of her set models into a dollhouse, it isn’t so far fetched. I’ve been practicing my knots so I can lash myself to the nearest railing or pipe just in case.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


Leave a Comment