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Mark Taper Forum to Renovate

Jacob Coakley • Industry News • January 31, 2007

LOS ANGELES — Forty years after first opening its doors, the Mark Taper Forum, the circular theatre at the Music Center/Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, will close temporarily to allow for an updating of its technical capabilities and audience amenities.

The Music Center and Center Theatre Group have announced 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 re-modeled Mark Taper Forum.

According to Music Center’s 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,” according to John Emerson, Music Center board chairman, “This financial leadership for the project gave our board the confidence to move ahead and was crucial to all the pieces coming together.”

Rountree continued, “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.”

“When you work in the theatre, you are generally focused on doing the best possible work you can with selecting and producing the shows and then finding the audiences,” said Center Theatre Group’s artistic director, Michael Ritchie. “But 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.”

The renovation will first be evident from the exterior of the Welton Becket-designed building, which will be cleaned, returning the Taper’s 378-foot precast concrete mural relief to its original form. The renovation continues in the theatre’s lobby, where improvements will increase the size of the space by relocating the restrooms to a downstairs lounge. The lobby’s abalone shell wall will be preserved with new lighting to showcase the material. In addition, the flooring will be terrazzo, and the lobby ceiling will be raised and lit in a radial grid pattern for the entry into 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 seating with two banquettes on either end of the lobby and additional adjacent seating. Carpeting and upholstery, mirrored columns and a staircase are highlights of the lower lobby’s interior design.

The interior of the theatre will include upgrades such as new seats, upholstery and carpeting and new railings along the aisles.

The acoustics of the theatre will also be re-touched to allow theatergoers to hear the spoken word better and without amplification, and a new air conditioning system will also be installled.

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%.

Renovation will also take place backstage. 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 backstage’s third level.

A new logical and well-designed lighting grid will replace the 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 Tiasei, Inc., and Tom Folsom of TRIP, Inc. is the project manager. Lisa Sachs, of Construction Controls Group, is Construction Manager.

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