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    Backstage Matters

    by Keith Gerchak, AIA

    I have noticed as a professional actor an observation reinforced in my work as a registered architect, specializing in theater design consulting that the same shortcomings in backstage design occur time and again. Creating inefficient and sometimes barely workable spaces, these chronic problems in layout and provisions may be attributed in large part to design efforts that disproportionately concentrate on the lobby and the auditorium.

    This is understandable, because these public spaces are used by many more people the people a theatre aims to attract and entertain even if for shorter periods of time, and the public spaces may also be more familiar to architects, donors, and patrons. Public spaces also provide the most prominent opportunities for creative architectural expression.

    In contrast, back-of-house design serves fewer, often more dedicated building users though up to hundreds of people may be involved backstage. And the design process may be challenged by a lack of appreciation for operational needs among the decision-makers and building designers.

    The building program is often filtered through a design process challenged by cost escalation, competing donor interests, ever-changing landlord decisions, community opposition, and site constraints. When faced with difficult decisions about where to compromise, basic back-of-house functions are often the first suggested for the chopping block.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    Carpenters hang scenery drops and flats from the rigging line sets on stage, so distribution of equipment should not cross the stage unnecessarily.
    Photo: Keith Gerchak

    ArchWeek Image

    At a backstage loading dock, the grade slopes down to the street. Dock levelers accommodate varying truck bed heights. Note the separate "man door" and a wheelchair-accessible ramp to the stage door that can double as a load-in ramp.
    Photo: Keith Gerchak

     

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