Strange Homes for Theater

By Sarai, Sarah | Stage Directions, December 2001 | Go to article overview
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Strange Homes for Theater

Sarai, Sarah, Stage Directions

From a water tower to a depot, a bowling alley

Ever hear an actress belt out "I'm So Pretty!" from inside a concrete water tower? That, and more, is possible. Theater companies that make use of unusual venues dot the country. Here are a few intriguing theaters:


120 S. Kansas, Weslaco, TX 78596

Mailing address: 1011 W. 3 St, Weslaco, TX 78596

Information: 956-647-9485

Tower Theater: 956-969-2368

Since 1969 Mid-Valley Civic Theater in Weslaco, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border, has performed in an abandoned water tower. According to Shirley Ann Atkins, the sole original board member of this now thriving company, former City Manager Cecil Massey objected when the tower was slated for destruction and suggested the renovation as a theater.

Much work ensued, including cutting doors into the 12-inch thick tower walls. Before acoustic foam tile was installed, a parachute was used to cut the echo. An early lighting system, later replaced by a light board, made use of empty juice cans.

The structure itself has an impact on productions. Atkins remembers the sirens used in West Side Story were so chilling within the concrete structure that no one in the audience moved during intermission. Among the fare staged there have been Camelot and Oliver and works by Beckett.

The theater seats 100 and has been updated over its 30-plus years to offer elevated seating and other useful touches. According to Atkins, the town of Weslaco is "homey, friendly, relaxed and hotter than hell," and the theater, which now enjoys cooled air, embodies the community's friendliness.


313 N. 5 St., Lafayette, IN 47901

Lafayette, Indiana, was once "a real railroad town," says Susan Kissinger, managing director for the Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette. In the heyday of the railroads, Lafayette boasted three depots. So making use of a decrepit 100 year-old depot made sense to the community and was a boon for the Civic Theatre, which had been performing in a garage.

The limestone building has been renovated to house a theater that seats 180 with a thrust stage. The former depot now has an art gallery in the lobby, two dressing rooms in the basement and a small shop in the back. Set designers for the theater look for unisets, there not being enough space to slide large sets onstage.

The Civic Theater has experimented with backdrops, sometimes using rolling backdrops. Lighting is also a challenge, says Kissinger, "because you can't get too far back."

Limitations have not discouraged the Civic Theater, whose season runs from September to June and includes five mainstage productions, four civic youth shows and a holiday show. Plays produced include Tuna Christmas, The Miracle Worker, Nun-sense and Meet Me In St. Louis.

When the City of Lafayette considered moving the theater from the depot, strong objections were raised. "Our people," Kissinger proudly states, "hands down jumped up and down, screaming and yelling that they did not want us to move from the depot." She adds that, "Audiences love the intimacy of that space. They love the fact they we are using an old renovated depot. The company loves working in that space."


810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis, MN 55119

Box Office: 612-825-8949

Fans of theaters in odd venues may be disappointed that they can't simultaneously bowl and see a play at the Bryant Lake Bowl's cabaret theater in Minneapolis, Minneasota. But patrons do walk by bowling lanes on the way to the spacious room housing the theater, and the sound of pins dropping can sometimes be heard during productions. Kevin McLaughlin, public relations manager, says the Bowl recently completed sound installation projects designed to "reduce the sound of pins," which makes productions smoother but may detract from the ever-retro bowling league ambiance.

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