The Dallas Theater Center(DTC) is known for its innovative work, the result of its leadership’s constantexperimentation and the provisional nature of its long-time home. DTC washoused in the Arts District Theater, a dilapidated metal shed that freed itsresident companies from the limitations imposed by a fixed-stage configurationand the need to avoid harming expensive interior finishes.
The directors whoworked there constantly challenged the traditional conventions of theater andoften reconfigured the form of the stage to fit their artistic visions. As aresult, the Arts District Theater was renowned as the most flexible theater in America. Thecosts of constantly reconfiguring its stage, however, became a financial burdenand eventually DTC permanently fixed its stage into a “thrust-cenium.”Imagining a replacement for DTC’sold house raised several distinct challenges.
First, the new theater needed to engenderthe same freedoms created by the makeshift nature of its previous home. Second,the new venue needed to be flexible and multi-form while requiring minimaloperational costs.The Deeand Charles Wyly Theatre overcomes these challenges by overturning conventionaltheater design. Instead of circling front-of-house and back-of-house functionsaround the auditorium and fly tower, the Wyly Theatre stacks these facilitiesbelow-house and above-house.
Thisstrategy transforms the building into one big “theater machine.” At the push ofa button, the theater can be transformed into a wide array of configurations—includingproscenium, thrust, and flat floor—freeing directors and scenic designers tochoose the stage-audience configuration that fulfills their artistic desires. Moreover,the performance chamber is intentionally made of materials that are notprecious in order to encourage alterations; the stage and auditorium surfacescan be cut, drilled, painted, welded, sawed, nailed, glued and stitched atlimited cost.Stacking the Wyly Theatre’sancillary facilities above- and below-house also liberates the performancechamber’s entire perimeter, allowing fantasy and reality to mix when and wheredesired.
Directors can incorporate the Dallasskyline and streetscape into performances at will, as the auditorium isenclosed by an acoustic glass façade with hidden black-out blinds that can beopened or closed. Panels of the façade can also be opened to allow patrons orperformers to enter into the auditorium or stage directly from outside,bypassing the downstairs lobby.By investing ininfrastructure that allows ready transformation and liberating the performancechamber’s perimeter, the Wyly Theatre grants its artistic directors freedom todetermine the entire theater experience, from audience arrival to performanceconfiguration to departure.
On consecutive days, the Wyly Theatre can produceShakespeare on a proscenium stage or Beckett in a flat-floor configurationsilhouetted against the Dallascityscape. Both learning from, and improving upon, DTC’s original Arts DistrictTheater, the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre will restore Dallasas the home of the most flexible theater in America, if not the world..