When it became clear that Uptown was going to be able to purchase the West Chester Armory, we started the process to interview architects with experience in theater design. We also formed a team of theater experts to get their perspective about what they hoped to see as one of the performing artists at the future theater. The team consisted of theater educators, professionals from Broadway and the Kennedy Center in Washington, leaders from several regional theater groups, musicians, and film experts. The group all agreed that, outside of West Chester University, there was a need for a professional theater west of Philadelphia. Most of the venues were lacking either the proper stage size, acoustics or lighting. They also agreed that we had one chance to “do this right”, so taking the time to understand what the performers required was important. The experts were divided into three parts; acting/dance, music and film. They felt that a great theater focuses on one of those parts as the primary entertainer. We decided to focus on acting and dance. One of the benefits of this choice is that the musicians said that they were very happy with this focus and the film people said that it also met their basic requirements. If we reversed the order and focused on film, the actors, dancers and musicians all said that they would not have the optimal environment for their performance.
There were three major criteria that were stressed by our team of experts:
- Stage: The stage needed to be large enough to accommodate most Broadway plays and be made of quality materials that would provide a proper dance floor and survive many set changes. We forfeited many theater seats in favor of a very large “actor’s” stage.
- Acoustics and Lighting: One of the leading “lighting and acoustics” engineering firms in the world is Clair Solutions in Manheim, PA. They work with the top musicians in the world and venues such as Carnegie Hall. They liked our “volunteer project” here in West Chester and took us under their wing. We are getting a great acoustic and light system!
- Seating: The seats have to be comfortable, with good sightlines. They will meet both requirements! We tested the leading theater seating companies and chose the best.
The performing artists had other recommendations that the audience will not see. For example, there is an exit from the stage to the ground floor of the theater, where the actors can relax in their “green room” until they next need to be on stage. There will be monitors in the green room so that they can see the show on the stage. Next to the green room will be the dressing room, with their own private restroom and showers. The advisory committee said that all of these features will make Uptown! an attractive venue for actors. Add that to the ambiance of the historic theater a block from the center of West Chester, and this will be a theater that many artists will enjoy visiting.
Away from the professional theater experts, we are taking the same diligence with the design of our bar. We are working with experts from both sides of the bar to design an environment that will be fun, relaxing, and theatrical. Stay tuned.
Tom McEvoy, President-Board of Directors