Thursday, December 1, 2011

Finishing touches

We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! The past month has been a bit of a blur, so it was really great to take a few days off and just be thankful for all our blessings.

On Friday, November 18, we opened our 2011-2012 Season with The Lion in Winter. It was an incredible day that included a lot of really, really hard work from our team. Some extra permitting requirements had everyone working overtime -but our lovely concrete walkway, extra railings, and super-reinforced risers will all make the theatre experience more comfortable. 

Opening Night had some extra drama and I'll let Jillian Owens from the Austin Chronicle tell you all about it!
I will say the lights were restored shortly after and we learned a new lesson about generator maintenance and were reminded again what amazing pros we have both on and off stage.
The rest of Opening Weekend was fairly uneventful in comparison!

We took Thanksgiving off and then got back to work Friday night. On Saturday, cooler temperatures and high winds tested the limits of our tent. The heaters we had just weren't enough and we made the difficult decision to cancel the performance. Our heartfelt thanks to Saturday's extremely gracious audience, many of whom came right back and caught the show on Sunday. We've added several high-powered heaters and are working out a plan for greater insulation and energy efficiency.

We will continue to improve our little tent to make it as comfortable as possible. Huge thanks go out to all that have supported our efforts over the past months. We have a long way to go to get to our permanent home, but we will get there with your help.

At 7pm on Opening Night volunteers finished cleaning the seats to get them ready for the audience!

Don Toner and Mike Toner finish the railing just in time for Opening!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rounding the Corner

Our tent theatre is almost complete! And we still have four days to go! All the seats are installed (we managed to squeeze in 129!), the set is almost finished, carpet arrives today, and the final fortifying of our structure happens this afternoon. Another huge round of applause is due to our amazing crew and our fearless leader, Don, who have been working almost round the clock to get the space ready for Opening Night. Speaking of Opening, the set is almost complete, the costumes look absolutely amazing, and tickets are selling quickly. We'll see you all soon!

Seats! These are not easy to install, y'all. I think about twelve people worked on seat installation. Thank you!

Our set is taking shape! And look at all that legroom! This is going to be  a very comfortable tent.

And look at that height! 21-foot ceilings mean we could do two-story sets!
 All in all we're pretty pleased with our new home and we hope you will be too. See you at the theatre!

Monday, November 7, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like a theatre!

Our temporary space is really taking shape now! Over the past week we've finished enclosing the tent, added doors, a stage floor, and risers for seats. We're working day and night to get the theatre ready for Opening Night of The Lion in Winter on November 18th! 
The stage floor is ready to go. It's just a little bigger than the stage at our old Penn Field space.

The risers for seats are being finished today.

We got our theatre seats out of storage and brought them to the tent on Saturday.

Our crew loaded in the seats and will install them today.

A stage floor and risers have really helped the space take shape. In a few days it should look like a real theatre!

Monday, October 31, 2011

The theatre takes shape

We've been very busy this week. Our temporary structure is almost complete and our crew is constructing the stage floor right now. First though, did everyone see this article in the Statesman on our temporary theatre? Huge thanks to Jeanne Claire van Ryzin who came out on Thursday to inspect our building progress. On Saturday we were out at Mueller again to put the cover on our tent!
Our volunteers unfurled the huge tent covering. The tension fabric cover is very big and very heavy.

Then we let the actors loose to carry cables across the structure so the covering could be hauled over it. Here we have Don Toner and David Stokey practicing their circus skills.

Lara Toner carried another cable across the top of the building.

Once the cables were across the heavy lifting started!

Huck Huckaby and Don Toner adjusted the tent cover.

David Stokey gave his approval on the cover placement.

At the end of the day Saturday we had our cover in place. The crew then began to prep the front and back sides for their panels.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Weekend Building Progress

The building crew started early Saturday morning. We had several members of our Acting Company as well as our architect and a few professional builders. Huge thanks to everyone who came out and made Saturday so successful!

Getting the first arch into the air took our entire crew of sixteen workers!

It was pretty awesome when the arch made it into place. Each arch is 55' long and 21' high.

The building has four arches each spaced twenty feet apart that form a 60' frame.

The arches are connected by a series of steel beams.

Acting company members Brian Coughlin, Ben Wolfe, Barry Miller, and Rick Roemer, along with our architect Scott Ginder line up the third arch.


At the end of the day, we put up the Austin Playhouse sign. We will finish up the building next Saturday and start installing the seats and risers on Sunday. It was a gorgeous and productive day out at Mueller, we look forward to many more!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Our new (temporary) theatre arrives!

On Tuesday, October 18th our temporary theatre rolled into town on the back of this truck. Our crew quickly unloaded the materials and laid them out in the field.
After we assessed the materials, Don discovered that they were different than the ones we were expecting. As it turns out, we'd been sent instructions for another building. 
After several phone calls and more assessing, we determined that the building we received is fine and may even be a little easier to assemble! (We'll find out soon...)

Here's David Weaver trying to wrap his head around the new building instructions!

David was an expert forklift operator!

On Wednesday our crew was back at Mueller and started connecting the trusses.

Stay tuned for more progress reports as our temporary building takes shape!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Our Temporary Home

This morning our city permit for the temporary site at the Mueller development came through! While this has gone a lot more smoothly than the process for our permanent facility, it's still been a long road. We've found an incredible company to produce a customized temporary structure for us (it will look like an airport hangar!). We secured financing for the temporary structure. We've arranged for parking at Mueller. We've walked through the entire permitting process, and now we're all set! Huge thanks to everyone at Catellus and the city who helped make this happen!
We will open our 2011-2012 season on November 18th with The Lion in Winter. The first few productions of our season will be held in our temporary home, located right next to the building site of our new theatre. We can't wait to show it to you!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Waiting Game

Right now we have tons of things in the works including putting the finishing touches on an amazing financing package and planning an incredible temporary site to start our season. But we can't talk about any of that just yet. Right now we're playing the waiting game.

We expect to have our contract with Catellus signed by the end of the month. We expect to have our temporary site permit any day now. We expect to announce dates for the first productions as soon as the temporary site is approved. We expect a lot of things to start happening so quickly and so soon that it will make our little heads spin and make all this waiting pay off. Big time. Until then, here's the latest rendering of exactly where we'll be at Mueller.

Take the Aldrich Street entrance into Mueller. The beautiful Lake Park will be on your right. Look to your left. That big empty field is where we'll be building our brand new theater! Our temporary facility will be located nearby, so you will see all the construction in progress.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams
  This weekend, several members of the Austin Playhouse Acting Company took a field trip out to the Mueller Redevelopment to check out the building site for our new home. It was incredibly hot and the ground was crispy and cracked, but we were so excited to wander around the field!
Our Producing Artistic Director Don Toner and our architect Scott Ginder discuss the next steps in the building process.

Scott Ginder, Don Toner, Barry Miller and Benjamin Summers brave the heat for a picture in the field!  

Several other Acting Company members stayed in the shade by the children's park next to the building site.
The Mueller Town Center will be built right next to the beautiful Lake Park. Amazingly, a few areas of the park are still green!
The historic Browning Hangar was kept from the original Mueller Airport. It casts a lovely reflection into the lake!

After our tour we walked back to Mueller Central. In a few months we'll be able to look across the Lake to our Field of Dreams and see a brand new theatre coming up from that dry, cracked ground!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Story so far: part two

Our theatre is led by Don Toner, who has already renovated two buildings into functional performing arts facilities during his time in Austin. So when Don decided it was time to build another theatre, few folks doubted that it could happen. Which doesn't mean the process has been easy.

We started our search looking at old warehouses and lots on the outskirts of town. Eventually we were connected to the team at Catellus, a real estate development company leading the Mueller Austin Redevelopment. Our initial talks were very positive. We were intrigued by the vision Catellus and the City of Austin had for our old municipal airport. The town center at the heart of the development would be a vibrant community comprised of local businesses. The site seemed ideal for Austin Playhouse and we quickly grew attached to the vision of our new theatre at Mueller. However, soon after our discussions began, the management at Catellus changed hands, followed a few months later by a change in ownership. Our negotiations continued, but we lost some valuable time due to the changeover. The changes also affected other groups looking to move to Mueller like the Austin Childrens Museum and the AISD performing arts center.

Throughout the changes, Catellus maintained a focus on creating a well-planned, unique community in the heart of Austin. And because of that focus it soon became clear that Austin Playhouse at Mueller had the opportunity to be an even larger arts hub than we initially imagined. We reevaluated the project and brainstormed potential partnerships. The most exciting idea involved the nationally renowned nonprofit real estate developer, Artspace. Artspace has become an industry leader building and managing affordable live/work housing for artists.

In June of 2010 Austin Playhouse broughtArtspace to town to conduct a pre-feasibility study. Members of the City of Austin’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Department and the larger community were also involved in the forums. Artspace developments create vibrant artistic hubs in communities while providing affordable housing and workspaces for artists of all disciplines. The results of the pre-feasibility study were very positive in terms of community enthusiasm, need, and feasibility. A new plan was created to include four stories of affordable live/work housing and an art gallery above Austin Playhouse.

Meanwhile, the negotiations with Catellus continued and we started our final season at Penn Field. While we would love to be opening our new theatre in September, waiting a few more months for this dream to be realized is a small price to pay for a permanent home and a new arts center in Austin. The extra time has also allowed us to develop a customized funding plan that will secure Austin Playhouse's future. (Look for a blog post soon to learn all about our funding sources!)

We are thrilled to announce that we are finally at the end of all the talking and are moments away from signing a contract on a 17,000 square foot lot in the Mueller Town Center. We will be adjacent to the Austin Children’s Museum and near the Lake Park. It’s a beautiful setting right in the heart of the Mueller development. We can’t wait to show it to you.

Every time we thought this process was getting too difficult, we came back to the picture of our new professional theatre in the heart of Austin; a theatre with year-round, around-the-clock programming including children’s theatre, world premiere productions, classic favorites, concerts, film screenings, community events, and so much more. We thank you once again for your patience on this journey. Our patience is about to pay huge dividends for the artists and audiences of Austin Playhouse.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Story so far: part one...

This Summer has been full of  fundraising meetings, planning meetings, architect meetings, and more fundraising meetings. In the midst of all the meeting madness we thought it would be fun to remember how we got here and exactly why we're doing this.

Austin Playhouse was founded by Don Toner and members of the Artistic Company in 1999. We’ve come a long way from our first season, where we were invited to perform Light up the Sky, Mahalia, and The Fantasticks at Concordia University. Our second season we produced four plays in various venues around town including Arcadia at Hyde Park Theatre, Blues in the Night at a downtown nightclub, and The Man Who Came to Dinner and The Seagull at McCallum High School.

In 2002 we moved into our Penn Field location. Our artistic director, Don Toner, who served as project manager on the State Theater renovation, led the more modest renovation of the old World War I warehouse into a comfortable two-performance venue facility. (Our artistic director's background in construction continues to serve us well as he navigates the planning of our new home!) We opened our Penn Field location three months after moving in with a regional premiere of Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen. Over the next eight years we produced over 60 plays at the Penn Field location and opened a second stage theatre named after Larry L. King (whose play, The Dead Presidents' Club, we've produced six times!) 

During our years at Penn Field we enjoyed a strong growth of our audience base, but we also experienced skyrocketing rental rates. We started our stay at Penn Field paying roughly $5,000 a month. By 2010 the rate was $12,000 per month. Our growth as a company was severely limited by this monthly burden. Additionally, after a few seasons we found ourselves quickly cramped in the small space, without room for costumes, props, offices, rehearsal or scene building space. We also wanted to offer our amazing patrons a world-class facility and that simply was not possible at Penn Field.

Instead of searching for another rental space where we would face the same uncertainty of rising rent, we began looking for a permanent home to purchase in 2008. A permanent home, that the theatre owned would offer incredible stability to the company. Additionally, the new home would be sustainable; once the mortgage was paid off, the monthly payments not only would never rise -they'd go away.

The Austin Playhouse company has renovated warehouses and old movie theatres, but we’ve never had a brand new facility built just for theatre. We found a beautiful location in Northwest Austin along Spicewood Springs Road and began drawing plans and initiating a fundraising campaign. Dick Clark Architecture was engaged and Scott Ginder, our architect, created a beautiful and affordable design. Unfortunately, in the course of performing due diligence on the site it became clear that the land would not be able to support a theatre and adequate parking.

So the search continued as the rent continued to rise...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Launching our Construction Blog!

After nine wonderful seasons at Penn Field we've moved out. We're putting all our energy into building a new theatre for Austin Playhouse and all of Austin. This time next year we expect to be settled into our new home. In the meantime, we'll use this forum to keep you up to date on all the latest news -from permitting to breaking ground to building to putting the paint on the walls. If you want to know exactly where Austin Playhouse is in the construction process, just check in.
We're already learning to curb our impatience and be flexible, which we're happy to do because in less than a year we will have a new theatre!