Performing arts centers are all about finely tuned acoustics, state-of-the-art technology and world-class architecture. But some of the nation’s newest, most cutting-edge centers also strive to preserve history, create public spaces and serve their communities.
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Beverly Hills, California
It began in 1993 as community efforts to save a historic Beverly Hills post office; 20 years later, it became the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, the Wallis for short, which opened in October 2013.
The 1934 post office was renovated to house the 150-seat Lovelace Studio Theater, as well as the center’s gift shop, which will open later this year, and an education wing for a children’s professional performing-arts school, said Joel Hile, associate director of marketing and communications.
Next door is the new 500-seat Bram Goldsmith Theater. In addition to its state-of-the-art stage, lighting systems and acoustic wood screens that wrap the interior, an induction coil sound system installed in the floor allows patrons who wear telecoil hearing aids to hear the performance without static, feedback or using hand-held devices, Hile said. At the back of the theater is a soundproof quiet room where patrons can take fussy children or persistent coughs and still enjoy the show without disturbing others.
The Wallis’ outdoor space is nearly as important as its indoor areas. A glass wall of the Goldsmith lobby bar can be opened to create an indoor-outdoor area. The outdoor space transitions into a sunken sculpture garden, which then shifts upward to a “huge promenade terrace” that can host private receptions but also serves as a public space, Hile said.
The Wallis will both present and produce theater, music and dance performances, and the center aims to provide immersive experiences, Hile said. For example, the Wallis produced “Parfumerie” and opened “Timeless Scents,” a complementary exhibit about the history of perfume, during the play’s run.
“You’re not just seeing the show,” Hile said. “You’re coming here and having a deeper, more involved experience.”
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Kansas City, Missouri
The first thing visitors notice about the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is its striking architecture: glistening, curving, rippling.
“Starchitect” Moshe Safdie designed the building to mimic sound waves and incorporated elements, such as cables, to echo the strings of a musical instrument, said Amy McAnarney, vice president of external relations. The soaring lobby is the largest glass-and-cable enclosed structure in the world, she said.
The center has two theaters: the 1,600-seat Helzberg Hall and the 1,800-seat Muriel Kauffman Theater. Helzberg Hall is home to the Kansas City Symphony, and being in the wood-lined hall “feels like being in the depths of a musical instrument,” McAnarney said. The hall’s movable stage and flexible space allow it to be used for a variety of performances as well as private events, she said.
The Muriel Kauffman Theater is a classic opera house with red velvet seats and silver accents. In addition to its state-of-the-art technology, the theater includes a Figaro system that displays translations of foreign-language performances, she said.
The Kauffman, which opened in September 2011, provides programming that appeals to the community. Although the center is home to the Kansas City Symphony, the Kansas City Ballet and the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, it also presents contemporary music and dance. John Legend will perform there in May, and Ben Folds will be playing with the Kansas City Symphony in June. The center also brings in photographers to discuss their work as part of its National Geographic Live! series.
“It’s about enriching everyone in our community through diverse programming,” McAnarney said. “We don’t want everything to fall under the umbrella of classical.”
The center also has a concierge who works with groups to reserve blocks of seats and arrange room rentals for private dinners or receptions. Groups can also schedule guided tours.