Dance Theatre Workshop's New Home Is State-of-the-Art

Most non-profit theatres can only dream about doing what Dance Theatre Workshop has done. On October 2, 2002, this 37-year-old downtown Manhattan arts organization celebrated the opening of the DTW Doris Duke Performance Center, a three-story complex which includes the new Bessie Schönberg Theatre, two rehearsal studios, offices, and digital media facilities. All of this is part of a modern 11-story structure that also houses luxury lofts and replaces DTW's old two-story building. The construction process took two years.

“They were able to maximize the air rights, and develop a column-free theatre that spans the full width of the property,” explains Ed Rawlings, the Manhattan-based architect who designed the project. DTW occupies the first three floors and the basement of the new building with 12 apartments on the upper eight floors. The glass-fronted street-level lobby leads to the back of the 192-seat theatre, with the stage at basement level (which required a 15' excavation below street level). “The glass brings a sense of daylight into the lobby, as well as an openness and connection to the community,” Rawlings adds. “You can also see into the third floor rehearsal studios from the street.”

Rawlings worked closely with DTW executive director David R. White as well as director of operations Philip Sandström and outside consultants including lighting designer Donald Holder for the lighting systems, Ron Elligator of Acoustic Dimensions for acoustics, and sound designer Scott Lehrer for the sound system. “We pretty much expanded the existing sound system by adding more of the same high-quality speakers and amps,” says Lehrer, whose studio is conveniently right across the street from DTW.

The sound system includes Tannoy i12 dual-concentric loudspeakers and Crown CE2000 amplifiers, as well as a new Allen & Heath GL2200 mixing console located in the combined sound/lighting/stage manager booth at the back of the house. A new Soundcraft K3 console is available for live sound mixing in the house. New recording capabilities include a pair of DPA 4011 microphones paired with a Grace 201 mic pre-amp and a Tascam DA45HR 24-bit DAT recorder to handle state-of-the-art recordings or stereo documentation of live performances. There are also new Neumann KMS105 vocal microphones.

The rehearsal rooms have the same loudspeakers and amps, as well as Denon 1050 minidisk and Denon 680 CD players (the same playback as in the main theatre). “The choreographers can feel comfortable wherever they go in the building,” says Lehrer. “The theatre is extremely quiet considering it's on Seventh Avenue and 19th Street.”

To ensure a quiet theatre, the acousticians worked to eliminate air movement, vibration, and noise from the mechanical rooms, and also prescribed floating slabs and acoustic lock doors to isolate the space. “They also worked on the sizing and silencing of the ductwork,” says Sandström. “Even though the air conditioning runs above the rigging steel (specified by Sapsis Rigging), it is very silent.” The offices on the second floor sit on an isolated, carpeted slab.

The sprung stage floor (flooring in the theatre and studios is by Haywood Berk) has dual-action neoprene pads on a subfloor of 1×3s on 16" centers and two layers of ½" plywood. The surface layer is black Forbo linoleum, all of which creates what Sandström calls “the perfect dance floor, good for impact.” The stage also has radiant heating under the floor. The studios have tongue-and-groove maple flooring on 1×4s with single-action neoprene pads.

The lighting system includes a new ETC Obsession II console as well as ETC Unison architectural control. The theatre's existing ETC Vision board is now in the box office (they've been using this board since 1986). The Obsession can run the worklights, house lights, rehearsal lights, and performance lights from the control booth, the tech table, or backstage. Three racks of ETC Sensor dimmers sit in an offstage dimmer room where there is room for two additional racks in the future (all are dimmer-doubled, except those used for the L&E Mini-Strips and Altman cyc lights). A cyc light pit is cast into the upstage edge of the floor, behind a Gerriets Opera plastic cyc. All of the soft goods, including flameproof velours, were provided by Rose Brand.

Most of the lighting instruments are ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and PARs, and many of these now have Wybron Coloram II scrollers (there were no scrollers in the old space) and two Source Fours are fitted with City Theatrical Followspot Yokes. The theatre is wired for DMX and ethernet via ETCNet. There are also three universes of DMX (two for the dimmers and one for special devices) with Fourth Phase New Jersey responsible for the DMX distribution. All the lighting fixtures are mounted to pipes on the ceiling (no catwalks). The only access is via ladders.

The new theatre is extremely comfortable with upholstered chairs by American Seating with fabric in multiple shades of red, blue, green, and violet. There is more than ample leg room, and the backs of the seats lean back when the seats flip up to create extra space for people to get past. The side walls of the auditorium have a dark gray plaster treatment, rather than just flat black.

The new facility will eventually have a fully-equipped ARM (Artist Resource and Media) center where choreographers can create and edit videos on Macintosh computers. The entire three-story facility is also networked, with the theatre, offices, lobby, and studios interconnected so that what is going on in any space can be seen in the others. Video cameras and playback equipment include one Sony VX2000 camera (with three Canon XG1 cameras on order), two Pioneer DVD Pro players, and one Panasonic mini-DV player.

“The operational goal was to be able to work the way we did before and do as many shows without increasing the staff exponentially,” says Sandström, who has launched a technical intern program (that pays $260/week. Interested? contact pws@dtw.org). The technical staff includes director of technology Jay Ryan, technical director Ed Sellick, and production manager Chloë Brown. They now have a state-of-the-art theatre that adds panache to the Manhattan dance scene.