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...