Forty years after first opening its doors, one of Los Angeles' most iconic public buildings will receive a major interior renovation. The Mark Taper Forum, the distinctive circular theatre at the Music Center/Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, which was brought to national prominence by Center Theatre Group (CTG), will close temporarily to allow for a much-needed updating of its technical capabilities and audience amenities.
The Music Center and Center Theatre Group are pleased to announce that construction on the Taper will begin in July 2007, following the final performance of Center Theatre Group's 2006-2007 season in the Taper, and continue through mid-2008. During the construction period, Taper subscribers will be offered a four-play subscription for the 2007-2008 season that includes two productions in the Ahmanson Theatre followed by two productions in the newly remodeled Mark Taper Forum.
According to Music Center president Stephen D. Rountree, "The Music Center is excited about what this will mean for the arts in downtown Los Angeles, and in particular for Center Theatre Group. A $5 million lead gift for the project has been given by an anonymous donor. This financial leadership for the project gave our board the confidence to move ahead and was crucial to all the pieces coming together." He adds, "The total project cost will be $30 million. To date, the Music Center has secured over $22 million.
The additional sources of support include approximately $12 million of facility improvement reserves, and $4.9 million from the County of Los Angeles. The balance of the cost will come from private donors and foundation grants that are expected over the next few years. The Music Center intends to utilize tax-exempt financing to provide cash flow funding for the project.
"It was becoming increasingly clear to CTG that the theatre itself, that beautiful and unique Mark Taper Forum, needed our focus, too. These renovations will make the theatre so much better--for our audiences and our artists and our backstage crew. We are grateful to the Music Center, the County, and our donors for helping us make all these changes possible," Rountree states.
The renovation will first be evident from the neo-classic exterior of the Welton Becket- designed building which will be cleaned, returning the Taper's 378-foot precast concrete mural relief to its original elegance. The renovation continues in the theatre's lobby, where improvements will more than double the size of the space by relocating the restrooms to a spacious downstairs lounge. The lobby bar will be more accommodating while the lobby's signature abalone shell wall will be preserved with new lighting to showcase the natural beauty of the rare material. In addition, the flooring will be decorative terrazzo and the lobby ceiling will be raised and lit in a radial grid pattern -- creating a shimmering and dramatic entry to the theatre.
The new location for the restrooms on the subterranean level, accessible by both elevator and stairs, will provide an increase in capacity that exceeds code for both the women's and men's restrooms. The 1,350 square-foot lower lobby will offer comfortable, casual seating with two large banquettes, on either end of the lobby, and additional adjacent seating. Richly textured carpeting and upholstery, mirrored columns and a graceful staircase are highlights of the lower lobby's interior design.
Inside the theatre, the unique intimacy of the Taper with its special audience-stage relationship will be retained, with upgrades such as new, more comfortable seats, upholstery, carpeting, and sleek and elegant new railings along the aisles. The theatre's side walls will be animated with exciting design elements and a less cluttered ceiling will provide a more open and friendly ambience.
Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy commenting on the design says, "The team met this challenge with a remarkably clever and elegant design that will allow the Taper to meet the expectations of today's
theatregoer without sacrificing any of this beautiful building's historic integrity."
The acoustics of the theatre will also be improved to allow the audience to hear spoken word better and without amplification and a new air conditioning system will provide quieter and more even air distribution. Accessibility for patrons with disabilities will be increased in several ways: The floor of the entrance lobby will be raised to the same level as the Music Center Plaza, providing direct access. An elevator will be installed to transport patrons from the lobby to both the lower and second levels of the theatre. An accessible restroom will be added to the second level and new wheelchair locations will be installed on that level, increasing the total seating for disabled patrons by 37%.
In as much as patrons will enjoy a far more accommodating space, renovation will also take place backstage, where new technology and space improvements will bring the theatre to 21st century state-of-the-art standards, enabling CTG to operate more efficiently and to mount exciting new works using multi-media effects.
The backstage loading door will double in size and, as with the front of the house, the floor of the backstage area will be brought to Plaza level—both changes allowing greater ease for scenery loading in and out. Relocating the air conditioning and heating units to the roof will provide space on the second level for a green room, additional dressing rooms (including wheelchair-accessible dressing rooms), and a hair and make-up room. A new wardrobe area will be created on the third level of the backstage.
A new logical and well-designed lighting grid will replace the cumbersome grid that has been pieced together over the course of the theatre's history.
The reconstruction is being designed by the architectural firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios of Los Angeles and theatrical consultant Roger Morgan of Sachs Morgan Studios. The acoustical improvements are being designed by Jaffe Holden and the executive architectural firm is Harley Ellis Devereaux. The general contractor for the project is Taisei, Inc., Tom Folsom of TRIP, Inc. is the project manager, and Lisa Sachs of Construction Controls Group is construction manager.