Dallas’ newest arts venue, the city-owned Performance Hall, is set to open soon with a style worthy of the Arts District. But will the community come?
For years, it’s been apparent that the City Performance Hall — the Dallas-owned theatrical and music venue — was the redheaded stepchild of the much-touted Arts District. It didn’t get a fancy name like the Wyly or the Winspear, and despite being adjacent to both other theaters, is not part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Its budget — under $40 million, paid for with bond initiatives — is a fraction of the other spaces, and it wasn’t even fully designed and engineered when the city went on a multi-week lovefest three years ago drumming the bongo that was “the world’s largest contiguous urban arts district.”
It could have been enough to give the space an inferiority complex.
Add to that rumors that many arts groups didn’t approve of the original design — it was 750 seats but with no orchestra pit (slightly bigger than Carpenter Hall at the Irving Performing Arts Center, which has a massive pit), and there was no smaller hall for more intimate shows (like the 300-seat Dupree Theater in Irving) — and it didn’t get off to a stellar start.
Well, it’s still a big theater with no black box, but it did manage to find room for an orchestra, and a little sleight-of-hand with the proscenium might not make the theater smaller, but it does allow to adjust the performance space so smaller shows can operate. Darken the balcony, and you’re down to 500 seats.
In short, the CPH seems to have overcome its less-than-glamorous beginning and could be on its way toward being a beloved new space for Dallas performances.
Arts space has always been a premium in Dallas. There are huge venues — the arena of American Airlines Center, vast halls like the Fair Park Music Hall (3,600 seats), McFarlin Auditorium on the SMU campus (2,400), the Winspear (2,200) and even Fort Worth’s Bass Hall (1,800) — and tiny, intimate 200-seater-or-less places like the Bath House Cultural Center, McKinney Avenue Contemporary’s Heldt Hall and KD Studios Theater. But many of those are spoken for by the likes of Kitchen Dog Theater.
The well-sized Kalita Humphreys was, for five decades, bespoke to the Dallas Theater Center, and now Uptown Players shared it. That left the Latino Cultural Center’s 300-seat auditorium (which arts leaders have complained about) and SMU’s 490-seat Caruth Auditorium as some of the few options out there. CPH should expand that universe … if its size, location and facilities prove feasible.
It is already being felt out by some local arts groups. The Turtle Creek Chorale and Uptown Players will team up for a staged concert version of a musical there next February, and the Resounding Harmony chorus has staked its claim for its big annual concert; presumably others will follow. But to date, no arts groups have sought “resident company” status, as the DTC and Dallas Black Dance Theater have the Wyly, or the Dallas Opera and Lexus Broadway Series the Winspear.
What we already can see is a seemingly well-thought-out space with a lot of flexibility. Neither a box office nor concession stand is built in; rather, individual groups possess the flexibility to move it to several locations as need dictates. A VIP reception area located on an upper level overlooking the lobby permits semi-private functions space to gather. The roomy backstage, including several “star” dressing rooms, and high-tech amenities in the theater are close to state-of-the-art.
The CPH is also fairly “green,” with a more sustainable displacement air system and natural, easy-to-maintain materials. The seats are even comfortable. (Are you listening, Wyly?)
In short, what’s in store for the City Performance Hall remains a mystery following its gala opening (which, coincidentally, takes place on Dallas Gay Pride Weekend in September). We’ll have to see if the rule “If you build it, they will come” holds true.
City Performance Hall, 2100 Ross Ave. Grand opening
ceremonies take place Sept. 13–16. 214-671-1451. For additional
information, visit DallasCulture.org/CityPerformanceHall.asp.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 24, 2012.