Bass Concert Hall hasn’t hosted any live performances in more than a year because of the pandemic. But in anticipation of its re-opening, a $3 million renovation is already underway.
The renovation, announced today by representatives of Texas Performing Arts, the University of Texas performing arts program, will not only replace the theater’s 1,241 balcony seats, but it will radically improve balcony sightlines. Seating rows previously facing the proscenium walls in balcony side sections will be curved toward the stage, allowing patrons a full view from all balcony seats.
In addition to its own programming, Bass Concert Hall is host to traveling productions of Broadway shows. In February, it was announced that Broadway shows would return with a production of “Hamilton” in December.
TPA’s curated performance season is set to begin this fall, said Bob Bursey, TPA executive director of Texas Performing Arts.
He said the renovations would mean that Bass Concert Hall — which at 2,913 seats is Austin’s largest theater — would have no obstructed-view seats. Theater planning and technology firm Schuler Shook came up with the reconfigured seating plan.
“It makes good sense as a way to find a silver lining during this time,” Bursey said. “I’d rather take the time now to improve one of our community’s largest cultural facilities rather than having to taking the venue offline in the future when we’re back to welcoming people in to see performances.”
The theater’s audio/visual systems are also being upgraded and the lobby is being creatively reconfigured to reduce crowding.
The $3 million for the project comes via long-term financing through the University of Texas, Bursey said.
Bass Concert Hall — which turns 40 this year — had fairly significant renovations in 2009 that brought an extensive lobby expansion and dramatically modernized its front façade. Orchestra level seats were replaced in 2013.
Despite its theaters being closed, TPA has nevertheless launched several projects.
“I think some of things that you’ve seen TPA experimenting within the past year are going to be initiatives that will carry forward,” Bursey said.
In fall, TPA set up the Texas Big Top, a covered outdoor performance space on the Bass Concert Hall Plaza. The temporary venue, with socially-distant seating, launched with a concert series curated by Austin composer and bandleader Graham and featuring Austin-based musicians
“I’m very interested in pursuing a community-based curatorship model so we can widen the lens of what we’re presenting,” Bursey said who added that the Texas Big Top also gave production staff experience in staging shows beyond TPA’s three venues: Bass, McCullough Theatre and Bates Recital Hall. “Granted we weren’t that far outside our own venue, but it did give us a lot of information about what our organizational aptitude is for producing elsewhere like out in the community.”
And in January, TPA opened “The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop,” an exhibition of vintage scenic paintings, the massive canvases displayed on the Bass stage. The immersive exhibition proved popular and has been extended through April 18.
Said Bursey: “I’m very keen to create more installation-based experiences like that.”
Perhaps that most progressive pandemic move Bursey and TPA have made is a residency program for theater and dance artists, a collaboration with the Fusebox Festival. The four Austin-based recipients recipients each received up to $20,000 in project funding and access the Texas Performing Arts production facilities.
“Commissioning new work will be so important for the health of our performance community as we emerge from this pandemic,” said Bursey.