By: Catrina Leone, intern
TV20 was there when Near West Theatre broke ground last December and now we have more updates on what is in progress to make this theatre more accessible for the people. For the past 35 years, Near West Theatre has taken residents from the area, focusing more so on teens, off the streets and onto the stage. They have survived and succeeded despite incredible limitations at St. Patrick’s Church perish hall. Some of those conditions include: limited space, a third-floor walk up, and a non-air conditioned building. The people must vacate each December-March when the church reclaims its space. This involves completely tearing down the infrastructure, including a massive 40 foot thrust stage, audience risers, 75 lighting instruments and a sound system.
The $30 million Campaign for Gordon Square Arts District will change all that by building NWT a new and improved home. Construction ended at the end of October and the theatre is expected to open in Fall of 2014. Performer participation and the audience will increase dramatically, with 24,500 square feet, seating for 275 with close proximity and intimacy of performers, passive energy standards design, and complete accessibility and ADA compliance.
Near West Theatre builds loving relationships and engages diverse people in strengthening their sense of identity, passion, and purpose, individually and in a community setting, through transformational theatre arts experiences.
The third floor has severely limited the space available for NWT to hold their events. Sold-out shows shut out hundreds of would-be audience members during the runs of many productions. The new theatre will provide wheelchair accessibility for all members of the community, both onstage and as audience members, and allow integration of operations and programming. Near West’s new home will be a permanent, visible space, not only avoiding tearing down the infrastructure each year, but also allowing additional performances.
The new theater will have twice the normal insulation of the average North American building, a nearly airtight seal around the entire building, and a low-energy, heating and air conditioning system that circulates fresh air: warm in winter, cool in summer. These design elements will reduce energy use by 65%, yielding considerable savings and helping make the building affordable as the theatre expands programs and attracts more participants and audiences.
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