Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre
In the typical theater, the proliferation of front-of-house and back-of-house spaces threatens to strangle the auditorium itself, buffering the performance from the outside world.
Af Kirsten Kiser
The compact, vertical orientation of the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, with its 12 stories, allows support spaces to be stacked above and beneath the auditorium rather than wrapped around it. The exterior is clad in upright aluminum tubes, and the lobby is a simple space of concrete and glass.
No longer shielded by transitional and technical areas – foyer, ticket counters, backstage facilities – this reimagining of the theater typology exposes the auditorium to the city on all sides. On alternating nights, the Dallas Theatre Center, for whom the Wyly is a new home, can perform Shakespeare in a hermetic container or – opening the blackout blinds along the exterior glass walls – with the city of Dallas as a backdrop.
The tallness and simplicity of the box form, together with the unique visibility of the activities in the theatre, give the building prominence in the large new complex of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. The form also facilitates innovation in the theater’s mechanics: the conventional fly tower above the stage has been extended vertically, with program concentrated around it on multiple levels, and can pull up both scenery and seating.
This allows artistic directors to rapidly change the venue into a wide array of configurations that push the limits of the “multi-form” theater: proscenium, thrust, traverse, arena, studio, and flat floor, in which the seating and the balconies can be removed entirely.
The stage and the floor of the auditorium are deliberately made of non-precious materials – the floor can be drilled, nailed into, and painted at will. In this way, together with the easily manipulable seating and stage configuration, the Wyly Theatre seeks to preserve and elaborate the flexible, improvising nature of the Dallas Theatre Center’s original home.
The Wyly Theatre grants the artistic director the freedom to determine the entire theater experience, from arrival to performance to departure, by providing not just a multi-form, but also a multi-procession theater. Within one day’s set-up time, the artistic director can select between mechanically enhanced proscenium, thrust, studio theater, and flat-floor configurations, and juxtapose them with open, processional, focal, or episodic circulation sequences. The Wyly Theatre’s flat floor also enables any other conceivable performance configuration to be constructed, and for the venue to be transformed into a rentable space during the theater’s offseason.