Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre
REX / OMA
Dallas, TX, USA
Joshua Prince-Ramus / REX
Rem Koolhaas / OMA (Design Credit: REX | OMA: Joshua Prince-Ramus (Partner in Charge) and Rem Koolhaas (note: REX—the Design Architect—was known as OMA NY when design initially commenced)) Kendall/Heaton Associates Inc. (Architect of Record) Magnusson Klemencic Associates (Structural Engineer) Front Inc. (Façade Consultant) Theatre Projects (Theatre Consultant) Cosentini Associates (MEP Engineers) Royal HaskoningDHV (Acoustical Consultant) Tillotson Design Associates (Lighting Design) Transsolar Inc. (Climate Engineer) 2x4 (Environmental Graphics Consultant) Quinze & Milan (Furniture Designer) HKA Elevator Consulting, Inc. (Vertical Transport Consultant) McGuire Associates, Inc. (ADA Consultant) McCarthy Construction (Pre-construction Services) Donnell Consultants Incorporated (Cost Estimator) Michel Desvigne (Landscape Architect) Pielow Fair Associates, LLC (Code Consultant (Note: Company dissolved in 2006))
Chris Heinbaugh, AT&T Performing Arts Center, Vice President of External Affairs
Iwan Baan Timothy Hursley Theatre Projects
The Wyly Theatre engenders flexibility and operational affordability by positioning back-of-house and front-of-house facilities above and beneath the auditorium, instead of encircling it. Unprecedented, this stacked design transforms the building into a “theatre machine” that extends the technologies of the stage and fly tower into the auditorium. This provides an almost infinite variety of stage-audience configurations, and liberates the performance hall’s perimeter to allow fantasy and reality to mix when and where desired. Adapting proven technologies for new uses, such as opera stage elevators, sports arena scoreboard hoists, and fire truck telescopic drawbridges, the Wyly can be altered into a wide array of forms—including proscenium, thrust, traverse, and flat floor—empowering directors and scenic designers to choose the performance configuration that fulfills their artistic desires, or to invent their own. Directors can incorporate Dallas’ skyline and streetscape into performances, as the auditorium is enclosed by an acoustic glass façade with retractable blackout blinds. Operable panels allow patrons or performers to enter the auditorium directly from outside. The performance hall’s materials are not precious in order to encourage alterations; surfaces can be cut, drilled, painted, nailed, and glued at limited cost. The “theatre machine” grants freedom to determine the entire artistic experience, from audience arrival to performance configuration to departure. On Friday, patrons share Lear’s sorrow in a dark and quiet theater. Then Saturday, against the dramatic backdrop of Dallas’ cityscape, the audience joins Vladimir and Estragon in their vigil for Godot, in an auditorium stripped of its comforting cocoon.
Dallas Theater Center (DTC) is known for its innovative work, the result of its leadership’s constant experimentation and the provisional nature of its former, long-time home. DTC’s previous accommodation—a makeshift metal shed—freed its users from the limitations imposed by a fixed-stage configuration and the need to protect expensive interior finishes. The directors and scenic designers who worked there constantly challenged traditional theater’s conventions and reconfigured the stage’s form to fit their artistic visions. At the height of DTC’s notoriety in the last century, its “multi-form” shed was renowned as the most flexible theatre in America, producing work rarely seen outside of New York, Chicago, and Seattle, and attracting some of the world’s best artists. During the ‘80s and ‘90s, strains on DTC’s operational funding increased and the costs of transformation became a financial burden which could no longer be afforded. In 1999, DTC permanently fixed its stage into a “thrust-cenium,” an economic necessity that jeopardized the company’s future prominence. Replacing DTC’s old home thereby raised two distinct challenges. First, the new edifice needed to regain and refine the same stage reconfigurability and material malleability that made DTC’s original shed a fertile theatre space. Second, the new venue had to combine these freedoms with long-term operational affordability. Failure to meet these challenges would earn the building (and its architect) the ignominy of stifling the very creativity and innovation that made DTC renowned. Design success would be measured by the extent to which the architecture empowered the new theater’s artists.
The Wyly’s unparalleled (and affordable) flexibility has increased the ambition, scope, patronage, and reach of the artistic work created within. According to DTC’s Artistic Director, each production’s surprising relationship between theatrical design and architecture—and the vibrancy and intimacy of actor-audience interaction—consistently enthralls audiences. In the four years since the Wyly’s opening, DTC’s audience has doubled in size; twenty-five of its twenty-eight productions were staged in unique configurations; and seven premieres were exported, five to Broadway/off-Broadway and two to nationally recognized theaters. By contrast, over the fifty years prior to the Wyly, DTC had sent twelve premieres to subsequent productions, mostly at smaller, regional theatres. The Wyly’s permeable perimeter has animated its environs by rendering artists, audience, and productions as visible agents in the city, and built patronage by revealing the processes through which world-class theatre is made. From the Arts District’s lawns, families watch the erection of sets, the rigging of lights, or the blocking of scenes through the acoustic glass façade. This ability to peek ‘behind the curtain’—a spectacle activating the city—has generated an increased appreciation for the local arts scene, and a substantial increase in box office revenue. The Wyly’s unprecedented stacked design has notably increased intra-company cohesion by intertwining back-of-house spaces dedicated to performers and administrators. An educational trajectory through these spaces for DTC’s six new educational programs fuses the company with its patronage as well, providing sneak views into the activities of the rehearsal rooms, black box theatre, and costume shop.