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Tip top


by Jerome Weeks 8 May 2008

The Charles and Dee Wyly Theatre was “topped out” this morning — the traditional ceremony marks the highest point of construction on a building; in this case, nine stories straight up. With an applauding crowd of donors and dignitaries present, including Mayor Tom Leppert, Dallas Center for the Performing Arts president Bill Lively and chief […]

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Wyly Theatre topping out ceremonytopping out the Wyly
The Charles and Dee Wyly Theatre was “topped out” this morning — the traditional ceremony marks the highest point of construction on a building; in this case, nine stories straight up. With an applauding crowd of donors and dignitaries present, including Mayor Tom Leppert, Dallas Center for the Performing Arts president Bill Lively and chief donor Charles Wyly, an apple-green I-beam covered with autographs was hoisted overhead and put in place.

DCPA chair Howard Hallam took the occasion to note that construction of the Wyly was on time and under budget. Opening night, he declared, would be precisely 17 months and eight days from today. (The apple green color was chosen to match what will be the color of the theater’s seats — though they won’t be quite as bright, board member Deedie Rose assured the crowd.)

It’s fitting that the height of the Wyly should be commemorated. The 600-seat performance space — the future home of the Dallas Theater Center — represents a radical, “vertical” departure from conventional theater design. It will be unlike any theater, anywhere, because the “backstage” support facilities (costume and scene shops, rehearsal rooms) as well as the “front of house” amenities (lobby, restrooms, concessions) will not be clustered around or behind the auditorium. They will be stacked on top of it or underneath it (In addition to nine floors aboveground, the Wyly has three floors underground.).

The Wyly, in effect, will be the world’s first skyscraper theater. But the Wyly is doubly daring– at least.

Wyly Theater under construction

Chief designer Joshua Prince-Ramus — of the New York office of Rem Koolhaas’ firm, OMA — has given the building an innovative support structure, permitting its “open-skin” appearance, one that the DCPA and Theater Center have touted: All of the steel girders that currently hold up the structure (in the photos, the big ones on the corners, for instance) will be removed by summer’s end. The entire structure will be supported by the concrete wall along one side and the criss-crossing poured-cement beams along the others. This will allow the first three floors to be sheathed entirely by tall glass windows (along three sides of the box), making the auditorium “see-through.” Built-in curtains will shut out the sunlight or prying eyes when necessary, while the seating will be held up by three support lifts that can raise, lower or reconfigure the audience. Visually, the theater will look as strikingly different as it actually is in its thinking and internal structure: The top six floors of the Wyly, coated with extruded aluminum tubes, will appear to float on top of this glass bubble on the ground.

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  • Carlo

    Jerome:

    It may be the tallest “skyscrapper” theater, but the new Guthrie Theater finished almost two-years ago is eight stories tall, and I have to say the escalator taking you up to your seat to one of three spaces in the building is like a Disney World ride — long, crowded and in the dark. The old theatre building configuration had its pluses.

    • I could say that the new Guthrie doesn’t really express a striking, shooting “verticality” the way the Wyly will (partly because there’s very little in the immediate Arts District vicinity that is as vertical). The Guthrie is much more bulky, echoing the electric plant across the river, and perhaps its most famous feature is that jutting, horizontal terrace-thingy.

      But actually I’d completely forgotten about the Guthrie. Thanks. I blame my bronchitis and the large amounts of codeine I’ve been drinking this week.

  • BECKY

    Clearly, Tom Hendricks, you haven’t been to theater in Dallas in a long time. Nor, have you even looked at Kevin Moriarty’s new season for the Dallas Theater Center.

    In it, he is planning three new plays and two world premieres. Definitely something new and exciting for Dallas! You should do your research first.

  • Lesley Walter

    here are a couple of interesting links:

    The recently renovated La Scala:
    http://www.teatroallascala.org/includes/html/ENG_Piermarini.html
    &
    Mario Botta’s firm’s website:
    http://www.botta.ch/Page/Re%202004_448_TeatroScalaMilano_en%20(Pu).php

  • Lesley Walter

    correct link is:
    “http://www.botta.ch/Page/Re%202004_448_TeatroScalaMilano_en%20(Pu).php”

  • Marshall W.

    Well, I guess I am excited that a new theatre that doesn’t, in it current (skeletal) incarnations seem to be afraid to try something new. But I tend to agree with the Mr. Hendricks; like Mike Daisey said on fair game the other night, theatre in the U.S. today is like the Iraq war – the popular thing is just to throw money at it, but that most certainly doesn’t mean that anyone still believes in it.

  • BECKY

    So, you are saying that no one believes that theater can produce something that is valuable and worthwhile, something that can touch your life and make you think about things differently.

    I would disagree with that! I think theater can be the beginning of a conversation about issues that are relevant to our lives. I have been going to the theater for years both here in Dallas and in New York and have always felt this way.

    If you wish to change theater for the better, instead of criticizing it, why not get involved and try to help it from the inside.

  • hd

    All you naysayers watch this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsyuyQ1bel0 It is a lecture by the Architect, Josh Ramus of REX NY. Beginning at 9:40 he explains how they came to the design of the new Wyly. Interesting ideas, indeed.

  • Hey HD,
    Thanks for the link. If you take a look at Art&Seek home page, you’ll see Jerome Weeks has written a bit more on the video. Appreciate you sending it our way.
    Anne