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VOL. 127 | NO. 181 | Monday, September 17, 2012

Next-Generation Theater

Orpheum’s performing arts center to develop young theater fans

By Sarah Baker

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Plans are moving forward for The Orpheum Theatre Memphis’ new Performing Arts and Leadership Centre, a $10.7 million facility that will enable growth in student participation and other professional development programs.

The Orpheum Theatre is more than just the best touring Broadway shows. These children attend a student matinee series performance, part of the education offering that’s growing at The Orpheum.

(Photo: Jay Adkins)

The Memphis Development Foundation, the organization that operates The Orpheum, closed in May on its $1.2 million purchase of the 0.87-acre parking lot immediately to the south of the iconic theater at 203 S. Main St. from Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division. Construction is slated to break ground in January – the same timetable as the Chisca Hotel redevelopment across the street – with a scheduled completion in spring 2014.

Pat Halloran, president and CEO of Memphis Development Foundation, said the three-story, 50,000-square-foot building will allow The Orpheum to help build a future generation of theater-goers.

“This is going to be big part of our new curriculum – the leadership and citizenship development, helping young people learn how to make decisions, how to become an early participant in their community,” Halloran said.

The new space will not try to replicate the 85-year-old Orpheum Theatre, but will have plenty of it’s own curb appeal.

“We want the building to make a statement – we want it to be very dynamic,” Halloran said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of complementary override between all of the excitement that comes from next door to what we do here. It’s kind of like running Graceland, you’re always trying to figure out how to keep Elvis alive.”

The sleek design work, awarded to The Crump Firm Inc., will provide a rehearsal hall, 350-seat black-box theater, a commercial kitchen, event space, classrooms, collaborative break-out space and administrative offices. The Performing Arts and Leadership Centre will also include a production area for television commercials and radio spots, as well as about 15,000 square feet of space on the third level for “some growth space for the next 100 years,” Halloran said.

“We’re talking about designing a contemporary facility,” said David Hoback, principal and vice president with The Crump Firm. “The new center will open a new south gateway and kind of jump the theater into a new era of where we’re trying to go.”

The Orpheum Theatre’s new Performing Arts and Leadership Centre will provide a home to the theater’s growing educational offerings.

(Photo: Jessi Scherr)

The Orpheum’s 19 education programs attracted more than 60,000 young people and their families last year, but many were turned away because The Orpheum Theatre lacks the space necessary to accommodate all of those interested in participating.

“Right now, most of our workshops and classes exceed capacity and have waiting lists, so it will give us the opportunity to reach the people who are requesting those classes,” said Alice Roberts, vice president of education and community programs for The Orpheum. “We’ll be able to expand our teacher professional development, our student workshops, our master classes.”

The Orpheum currently serves students from age 3 through college. But since most of its deep arts experiences are geared toward middle school to high school students, the new facility promises to create more alternatives for younger students – offerings available nowhere else.

“In all of our research, we’re trying really hard not to duplicate what other arts organizations are already doing,” Roberts said. “It will also give us more time to bring in some international artists that we’ve wanted to bring in that only perform in smaller spaces, meaning they’re not really equipped to come to The Orpheum, and currently, they’re not coming to Memphis with any other venue.”

So far, Memphis Development Foundation has seeded about half of the total project cost, $5 million, from community leaders. The balance will be sought by continuing to reach out to foundations, corporations and individuals.

Tony Bolonga of Bologna Consultants has been retained by The Orpheum as a project manager to guide the board on the day-to-day operations. Engineering services will be provided by ETI Corp. (civil), Liles Engineering Design Consultants LLC (electrical), Houston-based W.H.W Engineering (acoustics and black-box theater design), Barham Cain Mynatt Inc. (mechanical, HVAC and plumbing), Jamnu H Tahiliani and Associates Inc. (structural), and Fisher & Associates Inc. (commercial kitchen design).

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