The Dallas Theater Center (DTC) is known for its innovative work, the result of its leadership’s constant experimentation and the provisional nature of its long-time home. DTC was housed in the Arts District Theater, a dilapidated metal shed that freed its resident companies from the limitations imposed by a fixed-stage configuration and the need to avoid harming expensive interior finishes. The directors who worked there constantly challenged the traditional conventions of theater and often reconfigured the form of the stage to fit their artistic visions. As a result, the Arts District Theater was renowned as the most flexible theater in America. The costs of constantly reconfiguring its stage, however, became a financial burden and eventually DTC permanently fixed its stage into a “thrust-cenium.”
Imagining a replacement for DTC’s old house raised several distinct challenges. First, the new theater needed to engender the same freedoms created by the makeshift nature of its previous home. Second, the new venue needed to be flexible and multi-form while requiring minimal operational costs.
The Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre overcomes these challenges by overturning conventional theater design. Instead of circling front-of-house and back-of-house functions around the auditorium and fly tower, the Wyly Theatre stacks these facilities below-house and above-house. This strategy transforms the building into one big “theater machine.” At the push of a button, the theater can be transformed into a wide array of configurations—including proscenium, thrust, and flat floor—freeing directors and scenic designers to choose the stage-audience configuration that fulfills their artistic desires. Moreover, the performance chamber is intentionally made of materials that are not precious in order to encourage alterations; the stage and auditorium surfaces can be cut, drilled, painted, welded, sawed, nailed, glued and stitched at limited cost.
Stacking the Wyly Theatre’s ancillary facilities above- and below-house also liberates the performance chamber’s entire perimeter, allowing fantasy and reality to mix when and where desired. Directors can incorporate the Dallas skyline and streetscape into performances at will, as the auditorium is enclosed by an acoustic glass façade with hidden black-out blinds that can be opened or closed. Panels of the façade can also be opened to allow patrons or performers to enter into the auditorium or stage directly from outside, bypassing the downstairs lobby.
By investing in infrastructure that allows ready transformation and liberating the performance chamber’s perimeter, the Wyly Theatre grants its artistic directors freedom to determine the entire theater experience, from audience arrival to performance configuration to departure. On consecutive days, the Wyly Theatre can produce Shakespeare on a proscenium stage or Beckett in a flat-floor configuration silhouetted against the Dallas cityscape. Both learning from, and improving upon, DTC’s original Arts District Theater, the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre will restore Dallas as the home of the most flexible theater in America, if not the world.
The Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre is one of four venues at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, which provides new state-of-the-art performance spaces for the Dallas Opera, Dallas Theater Center, Texas Ballet Theater, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico.
Location The Wyly Theatre is situated on the south side of the AT&T PAC’s 10-acre Elaine D. and Charles A. Sammons Park. The Wyly Theatre is located across the street from the new Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House and adjacent to the future site of City Performance Hall. The site is bound by Flora Street and Ross Avenue.
Building Design The 12-level building is a “stacked,” vertically-organized theatre facility. Unlike a typical theatre building, where support spaces wrap around the stage house, the unique design for the Wyly Theatre positions transitional, technical and work zones either above or below the auditorium, enabling maximum interaction and a highly flexible performance space. The facility’s advanced mechanized “superfly” system is unique in that it has vertically retractable balcony seat towers as well as a proscenium wall that can also “fly,” allowing artistic directors to rapidly change the venue’s configurations, including proscenium, thrust or flat floor, depending on the nature of the performance. The flexibility of the facility will allow the Wyly Theatre to host a wide range of classical and experimental drama, dance and musical productions, and world-renowned vocalists and dance troupes. The exterior walls of the Potter Rose Performance Hall are made of an acoustic quality transparent glass curtain wall system with integral shade controls, which can be configured to create a virtually “seamless” vista of the outdoors, as well as to allow pedestrian views into the working operations of the theatre environment.
Superfly System - Movable proscenium wall and 135-ton balcony towers; - Complete automated reconfiguration requires only a small crew and one working day 2; - Mechanical technologies adapted from those originally developed for moving scoreboards in sporting arenas; - Custom-made movable seats designed by REX/OMA and Arne Quinze/Quinze & Milan of Italy.
Materials & Systems The other materials and systems of the building are as unique as the flexible format design. They include: - 4,100 cubic yards of concrete and 888 tons of structural steel; - One 100-foot long, 32-foot high structural steel truss, weighing 48,000 pounds, from which lower floors and “superfly” hang; - Six perimeter “super columns” and concrete sheer wall to allow for column-free, glass-enclosed performance hall; - Extruded tubular aluminum exterior cladding (466 tubes, each approximately 100 feet long); - 15,300 square foot acoustic quality glass curtainwall system with operable integral light shading; - Exterior mounted elevators.
Building Amenities The building also features: - Cocktail bar - Rooftop multipurpose space - Rehearsal space with outdoor terrace - Costume shop - Stage support areas - Production spaces - Administrative offices