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Trying to build a theater

Discussion in 'Stage Management and Facility Operations' started by shappie, Feb 27, 2009.

  1. shappie

    shappie Member

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    Hi there everyone,

    I am a the technical director/teacher / all around designer at an arts charter school. I have been given the challenge by my boss to come up with a figure of what it would cost to build ourselves a "real" theater. We are currently operating out of an office bulding that I have spent the last several years turning into a small black box. With our enrollment on the rise we are trying to think ahead to the next step.

    So here is my problem, I know nothing about this particular aspect of things. I can spec and cost all of the equipment but when it come to the actual building (including a fly tower), the auditorium, having catwalks and such installed I am at a loss. I know I will need to hire contractors and most likely an architect but I am not sure how to find those particular people short of trying to google them (which I have not had much luck with yet). So if there is anyone here with helpful information, maybe you know a person or a company that handles this type of work , I would love to have some help.

    Thanks so much!
     
  2. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    You will need to contact an archetect, but they do not have to be in your area. It would be nice, but most theatre archetects are specilized and used to traveling. That being said, before they even give you a loose quote, its going to cost some money to even have them talk to you.

    The cost depends a lot on where you are, such as labor costs, material costs, unions, and what not. You will need to look at what exacly you want the venue to do and how it will be used.

    I have prints in my office right now for "the new theatre" that I will probably never see. From working on other projects that are building a midsized proscenium theatre, odds are you will spend around 4-5 million. That being a fully equipted building with a fly system, lighting inventory, everything. Its possible to spend 2, its possible to spend 10, just depends on how far you want to go. Installing a fly system costs a lot of money. You have to put a lot of big steel in the air.
     
  3. DaveySimps

    DaveySimps CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Welcome Shappie! You have quite the sizable project in front of you. Use the search function here; there is a lot of good info about this topic, some even as recent as this past week. You will definitely need to enlist the help of an architect. I would suggest visiting facilities in your area you think are close to what you would like your venue to ultimately be. Speak to them about who they hired and what they liked and disliked about the company, and about their space. I could go on and on about this, as we just built a new space 5 years ago, and am working on another one right now. Visiting venues and speaking to architectural firms should give you a start to see what the financial and logistical scope of the project would be. You obviously do not want to get too deep into it, as it is purely information at this point, since you do not have any money or plans to officially go through with the project, yet. Good luck, and welcome to CB!
     
  4. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Welcome aboard Shappie.
    I'll second what Footer and Davey just said. Check on here, use the search, you'll find a ton of info about what to look out for, hopefully you can avoid a few pitfalls. As for cost, well that is a huge wriggly can of worms. You might build a mid-sized proscenium house w/ fly space, and fully equipped Lx and Sound for 2-5 million, but then the other departments get involved. Typically someones gonna want to throw that Theatre into a "multi-purpose Art's Building" The the costs start mounting as they add on classrooms, storage for band instruments, rehearsal rooms... Next thing you know they have to cut back on the amount of you you have allocated for shop space 'cause the Choir needs room to store their risers and shell.
    <oops, sorry I got off on a grinch their didn't I ? >

    Suffice it to say a new facility in todays educational world can easily turn into a 10 - 15 million dollar project very quickly. On the bright side The economic stimulus package has money set aside specifically for new construction of school projects, so funding, within the next 5 - 10 years shouldn't be out of reach.
    You're gonna want a good architectual firm, a good theatre consultant, a Great general contractor, and a lot of patience. What part of the country are you in ? That may help in locating an architect / consultant.
     
  5. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    There are many practical considerations. From experience, issues like the site conditions and zoning regulations could have a major impact on the overall cost. I'm working on one project where there is a limit on the building height so they are having to dig down to fit in a fly tower, which can get expensive. So could factors such as whether the theatre can tie into an existing central plant for heating and cooling or if it has to be completely separate, what is involved in getting utilities to the location, how the General Contractor could stage the construction, how the construction might affect other facilities and so on. Then there are code and ADA issues, which can go from related parking requirements to capacity. These are all the kinds of issues that are likely going to require professional assistance, and ideally some professionals that are familiar with and properly licensed for working in your area. On large projects you sometimes see a 'name' Architect who is remote team with a local Architect for their knowledge of local codes and conditions as well as on-site services.

    Before any design starts happening there is determining what is in the space not just for the auditorium but also as far as supporting areas, offices, Lobbies, connections to existing spaces, etc. You can do a lot of the general planning and thinking in advance, that can let you make the most effective use of any professional's time later. If they know you want a fly tower and counterweight rigging or that you need an X square foot Scene Shop and some certain number of Dressing Rooms of a general size or capacity, that type of information already thought out can really help them and you.

    There are also potentially funding factors to explore. Charter schools can be an odd situation as they often involve a mix of public and private funds. But if public funds are involved there may be requirements on how everything has to be handled, you may have to bid just about everything, including professional services, and you may have to go with the low 'qualified' bidder. There may also be 'design standards' to be applied. On the good side, the school district would typically have some staff that can help you through the procedural issues and perhaps get you started in the right direction on getting a construction estimate.

    Researching other facilities and getting information on their costs is a great idea, in the construction industry this is sometimes referred to as 'benchmarking' as in using other facilities as a benchmark for yours. Again, you can do a lot of the initial research on your own and once you have an Architect and design team, you can revisit those facilities with them to assist in expressing what you want or want to avoid.
     
  6. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    Really, the best thing you can do is contact a theatre design firm like Fisher Dachs (one of the best and most expensive) and get them involved. If you are really going to building from the ground up, then you want to have someone involved who knows how to build theatres and associated spaces. This is not a job for you buddy the architect, you, and a bunch of people from the intertubes to design. If you want your theatre done right, contact people who design and build theatres for a living.
     
  7. hsaunier

    hsaunier Active Member

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    Everyone has given great advice. All that I will add is this.

    First of all figure out what the intended use of the auditorium is going to be.

    If you do not understand that!! you will drive the design people crazy. Spend lots of time with the central group of people who will be operating this facility and discuss very heavily every conceivable performance that will take place on the new stage. If you plan on having a 4-5 truck broadway show that will drive the project one direction. If the largest performance will be the youth choir and spring musical that will drive design another direction.

    So before you even start to talk about money, know what is going to happen in that space. That will also give you a heads up when you start to visit other venues what to look for. Ask what type production happens and how they provide for the tech, the actors, the audience ect...

    Once all of that is clear in your head, money may change what you will be able to do. Don't however get caught in the situation "gee,, if we had only spent another $xxx we could have done this show without additional expense."
     
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  8. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    Great advice! Usually the first things an Architect does for a project is a Program. This is a document defining the functional needs and requirements for the space; the various types and sizes of spaces, any physical relationships or desired adjacencies, the systems and services require din each and so on. The Program is the basis for the subsequent design work, and thus is a critical element in the process. The more of that type of information you can have defined and for which you have already gone through the internal development, the easier it will be for your design team, the more likely you will get what you want and the less likely for there to be surprises later on.

    A bit of bias here since I was involved in it, but InfoComm offers a book called "Audiovisual Best Practices: The Design and Integration Process for the AV and Construction Industry" (InfoComm International Audiovisual (AV) Audiovisual Best Practices). It is from an AV systems perspective, but it addresses the project process rather than the technology or systems design, thus much of it is also typical of other aspects of any systems or building construction project.

    Also be realistic, it might be great to get a Fisher/Dachs or Shuler Shook or Auerbach.Pollock.Friedlander or Artec or any of the 'name' performing arts design and consulting firms but that is simply not practical for all projects, especially anything with public funds, and there are many very successful theatre projects with other, often smaller, firms. From my experience, I'd rather work with a local Architect that is a good designer and admits to not knowing theatres but that surrounds themselves with qualified consultants that can lead them on the theatre aspects than to have a a larger firm that thinks they understand theatres and continually second guesses their consultants.
     
  9. Elusid

    Elusid Member

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    I'm amazed at how threads like this are in the new member section :grin: Obviously I'm new here and eventually I would like to have a performing space built as well. Great information!
     
  10. awhaley

    awhaley Member

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    You've received some great advice so far!

    My biggest piece of advice is to talk to a theatre consultant! I firmly believe( and not just because I do some work as one) that no theatre should be built or renovated without the help of a consultant.

    A good theatre consultant will really get inside your head about what your project needs... how will the theatre be used by you? What outside groups could use a new space too(Revenue and Relationships are valuable!)? How could your space fit into the overall arts community in your area?

    Then they will develop the program for your space, which is the document that describes for the architect how your theatre needs to 'work.' What rooms exist? How big do they need to be? How do these rooms relate to each other? (Scene shop has to be next to the stage on the floor level, and the electrics shop shouldn't require travel up a set of stairs. House should have access to backstage through two sets of aligned doors to create a light lock that still allows long objects to be carried straight through. These are things that are obvious to a theatre person, but not necessarily to an architect! And if you're not very experienced at reading architect's drawings and visualizing what the space will actually be, you may not catch these things before they're built, but your consultant should!)

    Then the consultant should keep working with the architect to make sure it gets built as programmed. They should interface with experts to make sure enough room is being left for HVAC and Electrical installations. (All too often, these things aren't drawn in because the architect says "Oh, there's lots of space above the ceiling... it'll all go up there," because the architect has never had to focus three catwalks worth of lighting and doesn't understand that the attic is working space and cannot be obstructed any more than the lobby can.) The architect will always try to put the dock door upstage center, because symmetry is important to them... but there's going to be a cyc possibly a groundrow set up there when the stage is in use, so the dock door would be blocked... The side of the backwall, opposite the fly floor is often the best face for a loading door... Your consultant will explain all of these things to the architect, then remind them of them again when the first drawings come back wrong, then yell at them for you (so you don't have to) when the drawings come back wrong again... etc.

    The consultant will stay on top of the contracters during construction, making sure that it gets built as drawn, and that shortcuts that would be fine in other buildings but not theatres are avoided.

    A good consultant generally should NOT work for a gear company, because you want someone who's going to spec the right equipment, not whatever they're a dealer for and get the highest margins. Tell them what lighting consoles you've worked on, and ask them what they recommend and why. Call some friends( or post on this forum!) as soon as they tell you what lighting and sound consoles they recommend, BEFORE they go to purchasing. You're the one stuck with the thing, so don't just take someone's word for the fact that it's 'state of the art' and 'what all the big boys are using on broadway.' Usually, phrases like this are a dead give-away that the person is trying to sell you junk... if they were really being objective and selling you the right equipment, they'd explain the features, why you've always needed that feature, and relate it to other equipment in the same price class to tell you why this is better.

    The consultant should be with you all the way up to opening night, if not longer, arranging training on new equipment and making sure that everything has been built the way you dreamed it way back before the programming stage!

    Art
     
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  11. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    My building was completed a little over a year ago. It's about a 55'x55' black box with seating for 200, dressing rooms, small green room, ticket booth, concession stand, small costume store room and a good sized shop (25'x50), full catwalks, loaded very nicely with lighting, sound, video gear and tools for the shop. Total price: a little under $5 million. Took nearly 3 years from early design meetings until completion. With the rapidly increasing costs of construction I bet it would be over $6 million if you started today.

    Be sure to purchase all loose lighting, sound, and video gear yourself (things that don't require professional installation). Do not lump them into the contract with the contractor or you'll pay 2 to 3 times the list price.

    Send me a PM if you have any questions. Also be sure to ask future questions in the facilities forum. This forum is more for saying hello than detailed discussions.
     
  12. smithtrek

    smithtrek Member

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    I'm new to this forum. I may need to begin a new thread but wanted to jump in on this discussion since it overlaps what I an involved with. I am putting together a proposal for modifying an existing building in my community to become a "community rental theatre". The target customers for renting space at this theatre are private groups and businesses who wish to plan a gathering at lower cost yet greater flexibility than renting conventional theatres or hotel convention centers. The primary use of each rental section of the building will be for use as a theatre, but the seats are not fixed. Secondary uses can be family reunions, professional presentations, dances, dinner theatre, small or medium size community exhibitions.

    Rental cost is kept low because customers are encouraged to provide their own food and their own labor to move equipment and seats around midway through their rental time if required. The hired staff will be limited and the sound and lighting equipment will not necessarily be brand new high end brands. Also, amatuer productions are encouraged. One lure to the community will be to offer a contest to aspiring playwrights with the prize being to have the winning/qualifying plays peformed by amateurs in the community who audition for parts. This would require a few theatre industry professionals to be on the staff. This facility is located near a state university that has a great fine arts program; a potential resource for hiring staff members.

    One potential site is a former EconoFoods grocery store buiding. It has been kept in good condition, is curretly under lease and is worth about $2 million. My role is to raise funds by presenting the business plan to potential investors. I roughly estimate the need to raise about $5 million additional funds to renovate the inside of an existing buidling large enough to house about 4 rental theatre spaces.

    I'm interested in comments, advice, first reactions from this particular group before I start a new thread since this is complex enough to differ from this current thread. Thanks in advance.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  13. JLNorthGA

    JLNorthGA Active Member

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    The thread is dated from 2009 - with the last post being from March 2009. I would say start a new thread.
     
  14. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Note from moderator:
    There's nothing wrong with resurrecting a "dead" thread, if the new post continues on the same/similar topic. See necropost. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I'd rather see continuation of an old thread rather than a new one. Makes it much easier for future generations to find information using the search feature. Also, the CB forum software automatically encourages searching old ones before starting a new thread. Even still, I move several posts a week from new threads to existing ones.

    BTW, I am moving this thread from New Member to Facility, as that seems to be a better fit based on where the thread has gone.
     
  15. JChenault

    JChenault Well-Known Member

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    It's not clear to me from your post if you have done this or not, but the first thing I would do is to put together your idea of what you are thinking about in a lot more detail. If I were investing based on a business plan, I would want to understand:

    How many bodies in seats should each space handle.
    What kinds of events do you plan to present in each space. ( Ie a conference lecture hall is very different from a room to be used for community theatre productions)
    What kinds of competing venues are there in the area. What do they charge.
    Why do you think your town needs this kind of space.
    What are your expected occupancy rates for the rooms. What are your projected costs? ( The main cost will be labor, debt service, utilities, maintenence. Take a wild swag at these for now. But you need to get at least guesses as to how much you will be taking in, and how much you will be paying out each month)/

    The idea of moving seats around seems malformed to my ear. If I just want to rent a room for a business presentation, I don't want to have to do any setup. I just want to come in and have it there. If you want a flexible space, you will have to involve the fire marshall every time you change the configuration, deal with fire exits, etc. Better to avoid that if you can. Are you planning to some kinds of seating risers? These are hard to set up and move around and tend to get shabby pretty quickly.

    Just my quick two cents.
     
  16. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    In putting together your business plan be sure to include not just construction costs but also some operating costs. It is all too easy to build a venue and then flounder due to lack of appropriate operating funds.

    Not my area of expertise but I suggest looking in greater detail at the concept of renters providing their own food, moving furniture, etc. Not only would there seem to be practical issues such as wear and tear or damage to address but also possible legal issues such as liability, food licenses and so on. For an example, it may be that anything beyond people bringing in prepared food or maybe providing a warming kitchen could introduce various food service and food prep requirements and issues. And if renters block an egress path or anything like that the venue would likely still be held responsible so you may want some control over what they can or are allowed to do.

    Do you have an Architect involved? I see many well intentioned plans evolve without consideration for aspects such as code compliance, ADA accessibility and practical considerations such as space for mechanical and electrical equipment only to find out later that what was developed has to change significantly in order to have a viable facility.

    It has been very popular for some years now for 'found' spaces such as old grocery and department stores to be converted into worship spaces and you may find some useful ideas and information from those. Related to this, while such 'found' spaces can offer large, clear span spaces, plenty of parking, good access and so on at a bargain price, a venue such as you present may also represent a significant change in use and occupancy that could result in major changes being required to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and infrastructure.

    Equipment may not need to be high end brand names but it may need to be reliable and available. You may want to think in terms of not just what something costs but also the potential direct and indirect costs if it fails or performs poorly.

    Spaces supporting a wide range of usage sound nice in theory but such spaces often cost more to build and operate and/or require compromises in how well they support any particular function. If you are thinking of having multiple spaces then it may be more cost effective, as well as creating more effective spaces, to have some specialized spaces along with some multipurpose spaces. Realistically, what are the chances of needing four theatre spaces simultaneously and might you be better to have one space designed more specifically for that use?
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  17. JLNorthGA

    JLNorthGA Active Member

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    Some thoughts. People get sparse around cleanup time. So budget for janitorial - big time. I wouldn't count on them moving their own seats.

    Seating isn't inexpensive - a quality stacking vinyl covered seat that is good for 10,000 or so applications of rear ends runs about $80 or so. I don't think you want to go the folding chair route. Inexperienced people can really tear up your expensive chairs - so reconsider your staffing requirements.

    By food - do you mean concessions? You'll still need a concession area and clean up area. If you have much more, you may be getting visibility with the health department and the health inspector. If all you are doing is selling prepackaged food and drink, you have less visibility. I wouldn't go the kitchen route unless you are really going to beef up your staffing. For a kitchen - you are on the radar of the health inspector and regular health inspections and having a kitchen staff would be recommended.

    I guess what you are proposing is an exhibition hall/space with several different halls. I'm not sure how well that would play with community theater. I've seen exhibition halls and I've seen community theaters - buy not the hybrid. You may want to consider having a dedicated theater space and have the rest of the halls be for the other purposes.
     
  18. smithtrek

    smithtrek Member

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    Every one of the responses I have received on this thread have been well-thought-out, thorough and extremely helpful! This project is in its infant idea stage. So there is plenty of time to absorb and act on your good advice. You have given me a lot of items to consider adding into the plan. My next steps are to further develop and polish the business plan, then to meet with a local business consultant. I have not yet connected to any architect or theatre consultant, but have some in mind. I like the idea of dividing a building into four sections; only one of them dedicated to a theatre. Thank you all very much!
     
  19. RickR

    RickR Well-Known Member

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    Add to that list visiting other facilities. AS MANY AS POSSIBLE! It's doubtful that many places would view you as competition and even that will fade with distance. The staff there can be incredibly valuable for you. "I wish we did/didn't..." "All our clients want is..." I just visited an event center I helped build over 5 years ago. 90% of their business is weddings and the key factor is matching the brides color scheme. Nobody said anything like that at the beginning it was meetings and performances.
     
  20. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    That's a bit like a community center that recently opened that I worked on. The theatre is why many people first visit the facility but it is the Banquet Room and Meeting Rooms that get used almost constantly and make the money.
     

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