Scott Georgeson says he remembers a theater conference five years ago
where no technicians showed up for the architecture sessions.
But those same technicians -- lighting designers, set designers and
theater managers --pointed out the flaws of building designs during the
conference's theater tours, said Georgeson, senior associate and
theater architect for HGA Architects and Engineers, Milwaukee.
"We basically develop all of the space that they do their art
in," he said, "and then they would complain about
It was that disconnect that prompted Georgeson and his fellow architects
at the United States Institute for Theatre Technology Inc. to create a
competition in which college architectural and theater students
collaborate to design theaters. In the Ideal Theatre student
competition, architects tailor space for particular performance needs
while satisfying the landmark design expected in theaters.
The idea is to get architects thinking about molding designs around
performance operations and equipment and to get technicians thinking
about how to influence blueprints, said Georgeson, whose Wisconsin
projects include the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, The Skylight in
Milwaukee and the Peninsula Players theatre in Fish Creek.
"It really is unique," he said, "in that it is one of the
few, if not the only, (competition) that actually asks the clients -- in
this case, theater students -- to provide input."
The competition got the USITT Architectural Commission more involved in
the overall operations of the organization, said Raymond Kent, vice
commissioner of special projects for the commission and director of
innovative technological design in the Cleveland office of architecture
firm Westlake Reed Leskosky.
"People didn't really know what we did, and they thought we were
a bunch of stuffy architects that sat in a room and talked about
lobbies, pretty lobbies," Kent said. "It's getting people
involved in the design of performing and cultural arts centers that
maybe didn't know we existed."
Unlike an office or apartment building with box designs upon box
designs, a theater requires 3-D thinking to balance the needs of the
stage, balconies and audience floor, Georgeson said. Architects must be
sure the space lets crowds flow in and out. Stage areas must let
stagehands work in close quarters in the dark.
And, with the popularity of Cirque du Soleil, every stage must have
enough rigging for lights and to help actors or props fly, Georgeson
"We do try to make the technology blend with the spirit of the
architectural design," he said.
Georgeson said the goal of any theater design should be to seamlessly
combine function with architectural form.
"That's the art," he said, "when you don't know
there was a compromise."
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