Performing arts company TheatreSquared will soon start to move into a $31.5 million venue that will combine multiple facets of the business under one roof at the corner of Spring and West streets, just east of where performances have taken place over the past 13 years in downtown Fayetteville.
The three-level, 50,000-square-foot venue at 477 W. Spring St. will include a 277-seat West Theatre, 120-seat Spring Theatre, café and bar, eight guest artist apartments, rehearsal area, room to create and maintain stage props and costumes, and public spaces.
The project is expected to be completed in June, but TheatreSquared will start to move into the venue in February or March, Executive Director Martin Miller said. Little Rock-based Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. is the contractor, and New York City-based Marvel Architects and London-based Charcoalblue are the designers and have been overseeing construction.
“It’s kind of a phased move-in. We’ll be moving in even as they’re continuing work on the building,” Miller said. “We’re very close to being able to begin using some functions of the building. We’ll be having an event in June to thank those who participated in the campaign. Our first performances will be in August.”
Since TheatreSquared was founded in 2005, performances have been at the 300-seat Nadine Baum Studios, owned by the Walton Arts Center. The 2018-2019 season, which ends in June, will be the final season of performances there.
Finding a permanent home has always been a goal for TheatreSquared, Miller said.
“The space where we were incubated, the Walton Art Center’s Nadine Baum Studios, was the perfect place for us to arrive at our brand of experiencing theater, which is very intimate,” he explained. “You can’t get further than 20 feet away from the stage no matter where you sit. And, [it’s] also very immersive. It’s a very wide playing space. But the building itself, which was converted from a beer distribution warehouse back in 1998, is not ideally suited to a theater company. Because of all of our other functions, there wasn’t space for them under that roof. We had to have our scene shop across town, our offices here on the square. We were scattered.”
The company has also had to compete with sounds of passing trains, an adjacent karaoke bar and heavy rain on the roof.
“I think that those formative years will have a lot of nostalgia and affection for the work we did there, and the work we’re still doing there because we have a full season that runs all the way through June in that space,” Miller said. “But I think people are really going to notice the difference in the experience when they come into the new space, both from experiencing it as an audience member, the ability to have that experience of a public commons, a place to share a drink and food before you see the show. Enough bathrooms, saying goodbye to those long lines at intermission.”
The Walton Arts Center has started to evaluate how to best use Nadine Baum Studios when TheatreSquared moves out, said Scott Galbraith, vice president of programming and executive producer for the Walton Arts Center.
“Instead of being the full-time home to a specific theater or performance company, more than likely the space will showcase a variety of community events and productions, and we may even use it on occasion for productions that we produce,” he said.
In early 2015, conversations started about the location of TheatreSquared’s new home, and in September that year, the company received a $3.5 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation to design the venue. In 2017, the foundation committed $9 million toward its construction, and other contributors include the city of Fayetteville and Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission, which have pledged $3.1 million and $3 million, respectively. The city also agreed to a 25-year lease for the property on which the venue is being built, and the lease, without fees, can be extended up to three times.
“The city’s investment in TheatreSquared is an investment in our future and will be one of the unique places that will secure Fayetteville’s future Cultural Arts Corridor as truly a transformative destination,” Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan said. “Coupling the theater arts bookends of TheatreSquared and the Walton Arts Center with the large open civic space, landscaping, and performing and visual arts features planned for the Cultural Arts Corridor will create an experience that extends from the Dickson Street Entertainment District, through the arts corridor, to the Theatre District and all the way to the renovated Fayetteville Public Library and the Fay Jones Woodland. Each of these venues, stitched together, will provide a fantastic experience for residents and visitors.”
Molly Rawn, executive director of Experience Fayetteville, gave the following statement on the Advertising and Promotion Commission’s commitment: “We weighed very carefully our opportunity to invest in a project at this level. This expansion of this nationally acclaimed, locally produced professional theatre further solidifies Fayetteville’s reputation as a regional destination for performing arts. It will have a cultural and tourism impact for generations to come. Ultimately, we believe it called for an investment rising to that level of significance.”
When construction on the venue started in June 2017, TheatreSquared also launched a campaign to raise $34 million, and the plan is to reach the fundraising goal in June 2019, Miller said. Nearly 80% of the money for the project and about 75% of the goal have been raised. About $2.5 million will be used to establish a trust fund to expand its education and access programs.
TheatreSquared has 22 staff, and sometimes the number doubles after bringing on performers for the shows. They usually work under two-month contracts, with the first month in rehearsal and the second month for the performances.
“A lot of people still don’t understand that TheatreSquared produces its own work. We bring in artists from Chicago, New York and cast them from here in Fayetteville. They’re all professional artists,” said Miller, adding that it also brings in the designers, and “we create those worlds right here. And people come in, and they say, ‘Oh, where is this coming from, and where is it going next?’ And we’re like, ‘It’s only happening here.’”