Panel eyes three stages under one roof

A rendering of a hypothetical downtown theater from the 2012 Downtown Performing Arts Study.

Members of Evanston's downtown arts task force have agreed they'd like to see three -- or at least two -- theater stages with different designs and seating capacities under one roof if a new performing arts center is built.

At a meeting Thursday night at the Civic Center, the groupalso agreed to research different funding options for such a facility and to investigate the capacity of local theater groups to be able to fill the seats in a new building and to help pay for its construction.

After considerable discussion about whether rehearsal and office space should be included in a new building, the panel members, appointed by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, appeared to be leaning toward the idea that those needs could probably be accommodated less expensively elsewhere in the community.

They also agreed that a new building would likely need at least two anchor tenants that could provide the bulk of the programming for the space -- but that it should also be structured to have a variety of other groups able to perform there on occasion.

And they concluded that theater groups -- rather than musical or dance groups -- offered the most promise of being successful anchor tenants -- because they tend have the heaviest performance schedules and draw the biggest total audiences.

From a list of nearly 50 local performing arts groups prepared by city staffers panel members tried to identify which might the most promising to approach about being anchor tenants for a new building -- but they reached no firm conclusions.

Paul Zalmezak, an economic development coordinator for the city, suggested the panel needed to consider the size of each group's current budget and its demonstrated fundraising capacity.

Jennifer Lasik, the city's cultural arts coordinator, suggested that while the city has many groups that offer performing arts training to students, that for this project, professional troups that pay their actors and put on professional performances would be key.

"I'm thinking the new theater building would be more viable with professional-grade groups," Lasik said

"From the standpoint of generating operating funds and self-sustainability, you almost have to have groups that are professional grade and draw the crowds and have the ticket prices that would support it," she added.

The panel also agreed that the theater spaces should be somewhat -- but not too much -- larger than what the anchor tenants are managing to fill now

Panel member Judy Kemp suggested Stage 773 on Belmont Avenue in Chicago as a possible model. It has a thrust stage, a proscenium arch stage, a black box theater and a cabaret space in a building that also has a cafe or bar in between the performance spaces.

The performing arts center task force is scheduled to meet again at 7 p.m. on April 10.

Related stories

Downtown arts panel gets to work (2/7/14)

Downtown arts panel to look for strategy (3/13/14)

Panel hopes matrix will help downtown arts plans (3/14/14)

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