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Bronxville Schools auditorium reborn as versatile theatre

Bronxville Schools auditorium reborn as versatile theatre
Bronxville Schools auditorium reborn as versatile theatre

USA – More than 90 years of continual use from graduations, plays, recitals, and assemblies had left the Bronxville Union Free School District auditorium in Bronxville, New York in need of a change. Now, after an extensive renovation by a team that included Theatre Projects, KG&D Architects, and Acoustic Distinctions, the ageing 1920s room has been reborn as an intimate, striking, and versatile theatre, capable of meeting every one of the district’s needs.

Theatre Projects provided concept design, theatre planning, and theatre equipment design and specification for the $10 million project, which gave Bronxville’s elementary, middle, and high schools – all of which share the same campus – a stunning, multi-purpose facility with the accessibility and flexibility that the schools have always wanted.

Theatre Projects believes that good performance spaces create intimacy between the audience and performers. At the Bronxville auditorium, that was achieved by reducing the seat count from 635 to 508, extending the stage out into the auditorium, and adding new seating positions along the side walls, all of which pull the audience closer toward the stage.

“It’s important for the space to be as nurturing and welcoming as possible,” Aaron Wong, Theatre Projects’ theatre designer, said. “For many it will be the first space where students will perform, and we want to make it as comfortable as possible. When you wrap the audience around the performers, it reduces the volume of the room and makes it easier for a young voice to fill that space. This also gives them more direct feedback and energy from the room, and brings the audience closer to one another for a more dynamic shared experience.”

Theatre Projects redesigned the auditorium seating, replacing sections of seating on either side of the orchestra level with side boxes. The boxes make the room feel more intimate by bringing the audience closer to the stage and also provide a point for ADA stage access.

Before the renovation, the balcony only occupied the back wall of the theatre. The renovation expanded the balcony toward the stage and wrapped it around the room, stepping the sides down toward the stage. “The sightlines, the intimacy, and the overall quality of theatre experience are all greatly improved,” Wong said. Additionally, the auditorium’s seats were replaced with more modern, comfortable, and durable seats, and the balcony and mezzanine sections were re-raked for clearer sightlines.

It was important to Bronxville Schools to maintain the aesthetic of the room’s pitched plaster and wood ceiling while improving the acoustics and providing better and more versatile performance lighting. The design team’s solution to the schools’ acoustic and equipment needs was to replace the plaster tiles with squares of fabric that allow sound to enter the volume above the ceiling and resonate back into the room. Another improvement was the installation of an acoustic curtain, which runs along the length of the ceiling, and can be easily tracked into place to change the sound of the room.

Two stepped catwalks were designed to conform to the shape of the room’s pitched ceiling and new LED stage lights hang from them, illuminating the stage through two gaps in the ceiling. Other lighting upgrades include all-LED house lighting and a modern, Ethernet-based lighting control system.

“The existing stagehouse structure made it nearly impossible to install traditional counterweight rigging,” Andrew Hagan, Theatre Projects’ theatre rigging designer, said. Behind the proscenium, a new robust rigging system now allows the schools more versatility and a safer working environment. “We overcame this challenge by designing a system of motorised battens to allow students to hang lighting fixtures and scenery from the floor,” Hagan said.

KG&D Architects gave the room a new-found vibrancy with the refurbishing of the auditorium’s windows and with the use of wood finishes on the balconies, side boxes, and railings.

When students and faculty set foot inside the auditorium, they may have found it hard to believe they were in the same room that stood just two years ago. The comprehensive changes, including a new control room, stage, and side lobby don’t just constitute an improvement or renovation, but a total rebirth for a venue that is near and dear to the hearts of Bronxville residents. Now, school administrators and the music and theatre programs can be unrestrained in their ambition as they host nearly any event – spectacular and ambitious plays and musicals, seminars, lectures, school assemblies, and anything else they can imagine.

4th February 2016

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