WPCNR White Plains Variety. May 17, 2002. 12:15 PM. EDT:. With City Center financing secured, and the City Center going full-steam ahead, City Hall will turn attention to hammering out crucial policy decisions on the community theatre piece of the project. Cappelli Enterprises has promised to incorporate a community theatre “shell” into the fourth floor movie theatre level.
Professionals interviewed by WPCNR, indicate minimum cost for outfitting the interior “working guts” of a professional, 200-seat theatre is approximately $400,000.
During the four-month approval process last summer, Louis Cappelli, the “Super Developer” of the City Center project now underway in downtown White Plains, said he would build a “shell” of a community theatre, as a compliment to the string of 15 movie theatres of National Amusements now planned for the fourth level of the City Center.
Cappelli indicated the inclusion of a community theatre was a good will gesture to secure support for the project. However, Cappelli said during the approval process that he “knew nothing” about building an operating live production theatre, and therefore would only finance the empty shell of the building. How much of that shell, design and construction has not been determined.
A Mystery Price.
The rest of the financing, production specifications and equipment would be the responsibility of the city or community groups to design and finance.
Now that the project is under construction, the city has a limited amount of time to hammer out construction specifications for the proposed city showplace, envisioned as home to amateur and professional theatre groups, as well as find private financing to pay for the interior furbishing of the community showplace.
Mayor to Reach Out to Arts People.
George Gretsas, Executive Officer for Mayor Joseph Delfino, confirmed Wednesday evening that the Mayor was in the process of putting together a Community Theatre Advisory Committee to deal with these concerns:
“Shortly the Mayor will be convening a committee,” Gretsas told WPCNR Wednesday evening. “He has not made any final decisions who is going to be on the committee, but within a reasonable period of time the committee will be convened, and then there’s a whole slew of issues that need to be discussed in terms of the governance of the theatre, what kind of operational agreement we’re going to have (with the Cappelli organization). We’re going to want to get input from the committee, and ultimately, the Common Council will have input as well.”
Gretsas said it had not been determined how many persons would be included on the committee.
“We’re obviously going to tap into a lot of theatre groups in the city, there’s plenty of them from Westco to the community play group theatre, Fort Hill Players, and there will be representation from a lot of the arts groups.”
Asked when Cappelli’s engineers would need specifications to set up the “shell” of the theatre, Gretsas said: “A lot of those discussions were put on hold, while we were waiting for the financing, so I think that’s where you see a little gap in the process. But now that the financing is in place, we’re going to be having discussions with Cappelli in the very near future.”
“Shell” of a Theatre Can’t Be Just Another Box.
According to a veteran set designer for community theatres on the East Coast, the design of any professional theatre requires more space than a movie theatre. John Lefton, longtime set designer for the Chappaqua Drama Group, says a very minimum means the community theatre Cappelli would have to build should be larger than the National Amusements movie theatres on the same floor. To be an effective theatre, John Lefton indicated that the stage Cappelli builds would have to be twice the size of any of the National Amusement Theatres he builds.
“Unlike a movie theatre, “ said John Lefton, a veteran scenic designer, who designed sets for the Chappaqua Drama Group for thirty years, and currently is a professional set designer for a theatre group in the Medford New Jersey area, “You need a flyspace (the ceiling space above the stage) equal to or more than the height of the stage opening. You need a system of 2-inch pipes and pulleys above the stage to “fly-in” extra scenes or drops, and store an entire wall of an interior set above the stage.”
Lefton said a functioning community theatre would need a stage width of at least 25 to 30 feet, and 20 feet deep, considerably deeper than a movie screen requires. He noted ideally, any community theatre should plan to have dressing rooms, lighting systems, sound systems, with their sophisticated light boards and sound boards and control booths and computers which he confirmed put “tremendous demands,” custom electrical and technical on an electrical system.
As for stage demands, he pointed out for example, that the Metropolitan Opera House backstage space is equal to the amount of space taken up by the entire seating area of the Met audience, “because the opera has such huge sets.”.
Talking “A Fortune.”
Asked about the cost of such state-of-the-art interior accoutrements, Lefton said the technical demands would be approximately $500,000, with seating and furnishings. “It’s going to cost a fortune. You’re talking big, big bucks.” He said.
Professional Theatre Builder Estimates $400,000.
WPCNR contacted Bubba Fanelli of United Stage Associates in New Rochelle, who are currently renovating the Humanities Theatre at SUNY Purchase.
Flannelly said that the wiring for a working theatre is similar to a movie theatre but requires more sophistication and sophistication: “The real difference in power distribution is that the lighting needs a separate power service. Normal amount would be 200 amps 3 phase 5 wire, and audio video would share a power service 100 amps 3 phase 5 wire.”
Fanelli pushed for a big stage: “Whenever possible you want the performing area to be as big and grand as the space will allow, the higher the better, you want to put in a line set grid, which allows you to bring the pipes (where lighting, curtains, sets are hung) in and out (and down to the stage). The pipes will hold lighting, scenery, audio, and sometimes dead storage. You also want to make sure you have dressing rooms stage left and right, and some sort of storage.”
Run the Wire at the Beginning. Wiring Plan Needed.
Fanelli estimated approximately $400,000 for the infrastructure components of a community theatre, which could produce a variety of shows and events, regardless of the amount of seating. He said however that in preparing the “shell” of the theatre it was important that Mr. Cappelli’s electrical contractors be informed at the beginning the kind of wiring needed for the technical equipment going into the theatre. Fanelli said “when you’re running one wire you may as well run five.”
“If it’s all about the money, there are many types of systems to buy. I always tell my clients, run the wire…that is most important. Once the wiring is in place, then you can buy and or upgrade later, but a wiring plan must be implemented from the start (of construction). This is for audio, lighting, intercom, and AV.”
The man who builds theatres as a business, could not stress enough the importance of the wiring: “The biggest concern is the wiring, intercom to the dressing rooms, power distribution for the lighting, all the circuits on the pipes, audio feeds, etc.”
Asked if the wiring systems were specialized, Fanelli advised, “Yes and no, it is complicated and needs to be drawn on a master plan.”
The smell of the greasepaint. The Roar of the Crowd.
Fanelli priced out a rough estimate for a theatre’s technical needs: audio, $65,000, lighting, $50,000, rigging $150,000, intercom system, $8,000, Audio Visual miscellaneous, $10,000, drapes/curtains, $15,000, for a “ballpark total” of $298,000 for the working guts of a theatre. The impresario reports the stage construction will be around $40,000, bringing the total to the $340,000 neighborhood.
Build it and they will come.
Fanelli, recalling Louis Cappelli’s homage to height when the City Center plan for 34-story twin towers was advanced, recommended the more seats the better, saying, “costs for the stage lighting, audio, rigging, intercom, drapes and all the things that make this a working professional theatre, will be needed whether 100 seats, or 500 seats are in place, so my attitude is the more seats, the better, as we know you need to sell tickets to make back your money. So let’s fill the house up with theatre goers, and make back some of our investment.”
He priced seats out at $200 each, meaning that a 200-seat theatre would add about $40,000 to the $340,000 production component, for a rough cost of $380,000.
Line Set Grid Very Important.
He advised that a mobile Line Set System that lowers the stage pipes, to which lights, arbors, battens, and other behind-the-scenes, above-the stage components to the floor of the stage on an individual pipe-by-pipe basis was essential for smooth, professional operation of the theatre.
He said that touring companies could install their sets more efficiently with such a system, rather than a fixed system where lights, sets have to be hung individually with stagehands going up ladders. He noted it makes turnaround of shows faster and is something touring companies and acts look it in evaluating a theatre venue.
United Stage Associates most recently completed design, staging, and production for a show at the United Nations, and is renovating the Humanities Theatre at SUNY Purchase. Fanelli said the organization provides concept, design, installation and crew supervision to build and renovate professional theatres based on client vision of what a new theatre should be equipped to produce.