The West 37 Arts building, located at 450 West 37th Street, is a recently opened glass and concrete structure that makes for a very elegant performing arts center and a welcome addition to Hell's Kitchen, a neighborhood on the western edge of Manhattan. Designed by the late architect, John W. Averitt, the building has a glass front that faces north, filling all of the lobbies with natural light, brightening the interior and giving patrons and passersby much to admire. The orchestra lobby of Theatre A is the only one below grade.
West 37th Group — a consortium of Off-Broadway producers — and the Baryshnikov Arts Center share the 45,000sq.ft. building. The three commercial theatres on floors one, two, and three are four-wall rentals available to outside organizations and producers. The rehearsal spaces for the Baryshnikov Arts Center on the fourth and sixth floors, plus offices on the fifth floor, are all above the building line and get more light from the north, south, and west, giving them a warm feeling. Rehearsal rooms on the fourth floor can be used as presentation spaces for small audiences. The entire building is ADA-accessible.
As you walk into the building on 37th Street, between Ninth and 10th Avenues, you enter into an outer lobby with the box office and then an inner lobby with the two elevators for the entire building and the balcony level of Theatre A. Stairs lead down one flight to get to the orchestra and lobby of Theatre A and up one flight to the orchestra of Theatre B. Although I saw this space with no shows in it, there was a production using two stages for rehearsal. It worked very well for that, but I am sure that shows will bring their own character to the spaces, since they are very neutral.
Alan Schuster, the managing director of 37 Arts, worked closely with the architect on the theatres and the building and is very proud of the project. When asked how much the building cost, his only response was, “a lot of money.” The building is a column-free concrete structure, and most of the walls are exposed concrete. The theatres all have spacious 36" back-to-back row spacing for the upholstered seats. In the theatre areas, especially in lobbies, there are modern tapestries on carpet commissioned from artists that were then woven by high-grade carpet manufacturers.
Theatre A is large and spacious with 499 seats. There is one staircase that goes down to the orchestra level. To load into Theatre A, there is a rolling trolley winch on steel, which goes from street level to the stage. The load-in happens through the front door and the two elevators that serve the entire building. The elevators are both of reasonable size, but anything larger than a 4'×8' sheet of plywood has to be winched down in the case of Theatre A.
There is steel above the rolling trolley that has a one-ton point load, as well as a basic pipe grid. There are also pipes on each sidewall in the house with what I consider good positions for any production's equipment and separate pipes for cable runs back to a control booth. There is also a balcony rail. The same setup of pipes is repeated on the walls in each theatre. This stage is 72 .6'×25', and there's an apron to increase it to 35' deep. Above the stage, there is a clear 35' height to the underside of the slab. There is steel in the ceiling to hang show equipment, trusses, and scenery. There is no steel in Theatre B; there are hoist points in Theatre C; but there are pipe grids in both. Theatre A has two dressing rooms located under the stage, each for up to eight people. The orchestra pit, also under the stage, is accessible from staircases down stage right and left.
At the front of the building, there is a truss installed by Pook, Diemont, & Ohl (PDO) that travels up and down in the atrium. Tony Diemont of PDO notes, “PDO was asked by the West 37 group to provide a utility hoist to raise and lower scenery and equipment along the narrow corridor or between the 75'-high glass block wall in the staircases that fill the middle of the atrium area. The glass railings at the staircase landing are actually more susceptible to damage since there's only 5" clearance at some locations,” he says.
“The challenge was to design the truss to support the 2K load, as well as keep as narrow a profile as possible. A 12" or 14" square box truss would have been strong enough, but we were concerned it would easily snap the railings or balcony overhangs. Our solution was to stack two custom triangular trusses, fabricated by Applied Electronics, base-to-base forming a diamond-shaped structure. This gave us both the specified load as well as provided the narrow profile. Yet with only 5" of clearance on each side, we provided spring-mounted scenery bumpers at key locations where even a touch could scratch or damage the glass,” Diemont continues.
“The double purchase sheaves mounted on the truss were custom-built to fit within the upper truss, allowing us to raise the up-time as high as possible,” he explains. “As an added precaution, a pendant station was provided at each of three theatre levels to allow the operator to be close by when lifting or landing the piece.” The truss is 20' long, and it is used to help move whatever has to fit up to Theatres B and C.
Theatre B's stage is 19.6'×43', and there can be a forestage out to 24'. Clear height to the slab is 22'. Theatre B has 399 seats, and, as in Theatre A, it is raked in the orchestra and stepped in the balcony and has pipes on the walls.
Theatre C, with 290 seats, is the smallest theatre, and the load-in happens with the atrium truss, the stairs, and the elevator. The stage is 43' wide, and height is 31' to the underside of the concrete; with an apron that is 35' wide, the full depth of the stage is 28', with a small wing upstage left, which is 7'×20'. Theatre C has a very nice feeling to it, with a stepped orchestra and balcony. The same pipe setup as described in Theatre B exists in Theatre C, with Theatre C having hoist points.
The West 37th Arts offices are in the penthouse of the building. The space is large enough to finally bring together all the staff who had been working out of their homes on the White Oak Dance Project and other Baryshnikov projects. “We had been looking for larger quarters for about seven years,” notes Christina Sterner, managing director of Baryshnikov Arts Center. On the fifth floor, the Baryshnikov office consists of one large space with windows on two sides facing south and west. There are also other offices for other performing arts organizations.
On the fourth floor, there are two rehearsal spaces. Studio 4A is 43'3" ×43'1". Studio 4B is 42'3"×28'10". The studio has one mirrored wall. The ceiling height for both studios is 17'7", and the grid height is 15'4". All studios have basket weave sprung wood floors — installed by Haywood Berk — dimmable fluorescent lights, and windows. “The basket weave studio floor is perfect for dance, and we have also found the acoustics to be surprisingly good for acoustic music concerts,” says Chris Buckley of Production & Performance Facility Consulting, LLC in Brooklyn, who served as theatre consultant and also worked on the commercial theatres in the building.
An 8"-thick acoustic wall, with an STC rating of 64 (made by Industrial Acoustics), divides the fourth floor studios. “Basically, this is a rather new product and is the highest rated acoustic movable partition — not door — around,” says Buckley. When the wall is opened, it creates a 43'×72' space that can be used for performances. “The studios include a grid at 15', motorized blackout shades at the windows, and are equipped with portable lighting and audio equipment,” notes Buckley. “Currently, seating is achieved either on flat floor, cabaret style for concerts, or rented risers and seats for other performances. We are in design for a removable raked seating system for approximately 100 patrons, with a 43'×40' performing area.” The larger of the two fourth floor studios can also be used as a performance space with the partition in place, albeit with a smaller performing area (approximately 30'×43') and smaller seating capacity.
Studio 6A is 43'×44', with a ceiling height of 19'5" and a grid height of 16'9". Occupancy capacity is 74. This is the largest occupancy of all the spaces. The room also has windows on two sides, with gorgeous views West and South. Studio 6B measures 27'×30', with a ceiling height of 19'5". In this space, there is no grid system. The sixth-floor studios have a mirrored wall of windows, and all studios are individually climate-controlled. There is a C7 Yamaha piano available as well as a Yamaha Clavinova (digital piano).
There is sound equipment available in each studio that consists of two EAW 2192 -speakers, a Sony MDS JE480 MiniDisc player/recorder, a Gemini CD player, an Allen and Heath PA 12-CP powered mixer, and systems in custom rolling racks. Each studio has a minimum of three circuits of 15A 110V outlets. Studios 4A and 6A have an additional 200A three-phase disconnect. There is lighting equipment available: one ETC Express 250 lighting console, three ETC Sensor portable packs with 24 2.4kW dimmers, 48 ETC Source Four® units with half hats, barn doors, and the necessary cables, and 20 Selecon 650W Fresnels. Audio Production Services provided the sound equipment, and the lighting equipment was supplied by Barbizon.
The Center is nicely decorated with artwork provided by and hung by Baryshnikov himself on most walls. Generally, this is a wonderful place to create works, as it was intended.
“I really feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Misha and Christina in realizing their vision for the Center,” says Buckley. “I believe that the spaces will allow the center to fulfill its mission of being a much-needed incubator of the art.”
As production director and director of capital projects for Manhattan Theatre Club, Michael Moody supervised the company's renovation of the Biltmore Theatre, completed in 2003.