Dream a dream

06.24.10 | 9 Comments

CATEGORIES audiences, charity, conversation starter, corporate sponsors, designers, development, directors, funding and support, ideas, non-profit theatre, presenting, producers, rabble rousing, sponsorship, storefront theatre, technical work, the process, theatrical ecosystem

After the first sustained pause in the conversation between (sober) theatremakers the party question of choice is “what is your dream project?”

It’s a fun topic and generally it means you don’t have to talk for a minute which limits your probability of saying something stupid. It works best for actors and directors and pretty well for designers or writers. It works less well for… well for me.

I am a sometime actor and director, more often I’m a producer, but mostly I’m a thinker with an interest in community building – which isn’t really invigorating party talk. I would love the time (and ability) to do King Lear but my true dream project is bigger.

I want to create and curate the ArtsDepot.

My first real theatre experience after school was at the Exit Theatre in San Francisco. It’s a warren of 3 theatre spaces and a cabaret/cafe space in two physical locations in the Tenderloin District. It’s magic. Christina Augello and Richard Livingston have created the sort of hive of theatrical energy that every community desperately needs.  If you’re new to the San Francisco theatre scene and have any interest in indie theatre, hang out at the Exit for a little while, your people will show up.

I want to do it bigger.


You have one of these in your town. It’s an abandoned big box store. In this case a Home Depot. It is a massive footprint space that only another Big Box Retailer could fill, but their sustainability (of profits) plans generally requires that they build from scratch.

I want it.

I want this store and its land.

I want to carve three performance spaces into it, one 99 seat house and two 50 seat houses.

  • I want to have:
    rehearsal space,
  • scene shop + housing for the Austin Scenic Co-op
    furnished communal office space for theatre and dance groups to use,
    meeting space,
    gallery space,
    and a cafe/bar.

So roughly I want the moon and the stars, but wait! There’s more!

There is plenty of space around the building to create outdoor performance space and plenty of parking. It’s on a major highway (the same major highway as the Guthrie!) so access is easy if not always uncongested.

What does this do?

  1. Creates more performance spaces for Austin.
  2. Provides a space for artists to create in community. I want to model this on Sandy Stone’s amazing ACTLab at the University of Texas.
    Friction requires proximity. Giving people the tools necessary to create includes access to one another.
  3. Equal opportunity for visual, performance, and movement artists.
    In the same space. The future means not separating specialties.
  4. It creates a space in the building for the audiences and artists to interact. There is no physical break between the experience and the interaction. Getting in your car and separating yourself from the experience to go to the bar euthanizes the moment. Can you imagine the audiences from three Fusebox shows all emptying into the same cafe at once and talking about art and performance and feeling the glow that only shared experience can bring?
  5. It creates opportunity for awareness. With three shows running you will be exposed to a broader cross-section of available than being at one far-flung location.

On a selfish note it also would grant me space to curate. Whether that meant allowing for an extension of a show that deserved a longer run than one of Austin’s other theatres could provide or bringing in a production from out of town that I think Austin would enjoy. That sort of exchange broadens the vocabulary of our community and creates opportunity for outside artists to experience this city. There is also the opportunity to host a company in residency as the Exit has done for Ripe Theatre and for Cutting Ball Theatre which eliminates their space costs for a year.

Of course something on this scale is a pipe dream for me personally, a fun “if I won the lottery” game, but the model that the Exit presents would scale beautifully, and I hope to help see it put to the test in some daring community,

(if you have the capital and inclination to do it in Austin call me! (512) 524-3761)

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Travis Bedard

Travis Bedard

A long time theatre blogger, Travis is the Artistic Director of Cambiare Productions and a contributing writer to 2amTheatre.com. Travis holds a degree in Theatre (Secondary Education) from the University of New Hampshire and is currently posted in scenic St. Paul Minnesota..
Travis Bedard

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  • And if you happen to be in southern Indiana and want to do the same, give me a ring, too…

    Such a smart idea, and a great way to use these empty buildings that are otherwise a waste and an eyesore and, in some cases, customized on the outside to a specific chain's design and thus less likely to be bought or rehabilitated by another chain.

    And to think, instead of hanging on to these empty properties, what would the tax right-off be for a chain to donate the space? What kind of press attention and free publicity would they get?

    Such a smart, smart idea.

  • Tim

    If this is the HD off of IH-35 it's already been re-purposed for city usage.


  • @Tim I thought that had fallen through? I mean that's more than two years old and no progress?

    I'll accept any remodel 😉

  • Molly Mckee

    I LOVE this idea. I was just thinking last night (collective subconscious?) that I long for the day when all the Walm— big box retail spaces that are redundant in a community are turned into Art Spaces and Activity Centers. Brilliant. Any big grants out there looking for a great new project? Any eccentric million/billionaires who would love to have their name/legacy tied into such a wonderful enterprise? Keep putting the project out there, Travis. I believe in miracles. 🙂

  • Jordan

    Jimmy Crickets, I was daydreaming the other day that if I won the upcoming $50 million Ontario lottery prize, I'd do something nearly identical to this.

    A huge venue with three performing spaces of differing sizes, room for bar/ cafe/ reading room (stocked with plays), gallery, rehearsal/ meeting rooms, house resident company and use other spaces for extra performances of in-town shows, good shows from out of town, and smaller indie experiments. Community garden/ park outside surrounding building, and perhaps house a daycare/ playground/ children's theatre education facility on the premises.

    Common ideas must mean something.

  • So I mentioned on twitter that you basically took a dream that I had and wrote it up with some small differences.

    My version is a little more romantic, I suppose. But instead of a Big Box store, what I would like to do is to find an abandoned school/hospital/asylum…something along those lines. Somewhere, where there is already an infrastructure to create dormitory style housing without really major overhaul. What you do then, is to not only create a large-multi-stage venue and gathering space, but also a creative home for young artists to spend the minimal amount on housing/utilities etc and have rehearsal and work spaces available.
    The Front of House, then is essentialy what you lay out in your dream. Though what I would want to do is to have two stages and a venue that can function as a cabaret style performance area as well as a cafe/bar/club. The visual, and performing artists who get cheap housing and work space in the back of house would not only produce work to fill the space with events, galleries, readings etc. but also would be asked to work the cafe/bar venue on a rotation. Creating an arts hub that is always vibrant and alive. Fill the theatres with shows by the resident 'company' as well as other community groups who may be interested in presenting with you. Ask your resident artists to take advantage of the rehearsal/studio spaces to teach classes, share the income from that between the artists and the space.
    Finally, all of these elements hopefully create a hub where some sort of programming is happening on a constant basis, and you have your cafe during the day where locals can hang out, the resident artists' visitors can spend money etc. Constant creative energy and maybe not every day of polished work being presented but something being presented every day including a visual arts gallery.
    Then you tack on the membership model that's been discussed on 2amt at some length (http://www.cradlearts.org/blog/2010/03/29/netfl… ) , now that there is enough 'event' to justify it to the your audience base and you should have a model that can self-sustain and create some amazing work while providing opportunity to young artists who are struggling with all the traditional gatekeepers.
    Now we just need the space and some money to start it out. This is the dream I've been formulating with my closest friend and collaborator through high school and college for a while not and Bedard went and psychic stole it.

    What do you think?

  • Roughly the Exit combined with http://www.artspace.org/ yeah I can get behind that.

  • plainkate

    It also creates community. Not just for the artists of various disciplines, but for the actual, bona fide community community. And that is very cool. AND it keeps that empty Home Depot from becoming brownfield space. Double plus good.

  • Nessie

    I like how you dream!