TheatreSquared’s first decade has been remarkable. Ten years ago, we staged our first production. Today, we’re an institution with 40,000 people in annual attendance, recognized by the American Theatre Wing among the nation’s best emerging theatres. The pace of growth is rare for a venue of our size, but Northwest Arkansas has its share of unlikely stories. In this region, our ability to defy expectations has become a source of pride.
By early 2015, TheatreSquared’s rapid expansion was forcing us to confront a number of facilities challenges. While our venue at the Walton Arts Center’s Nadine Baum Studios in Fayetteville, Arkansas, will always have a special resonance for us, it was never designed to house a permanent, year-round theatre company. We assembled a community task force to advise on next steps, and when Charcoalblue — a London-based firm that’s established a reputation as one of the world’s leading theatre consultancies — advised that there were few realistic options within our four walls, we knew it was time to look toward a new permanent home.
We had a sense of the final destination but, as a nonprofit with a lean budget, the path wasn’t yet defined. That’s where the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program sparked an opportunity. As one of the program’s original three pilot projects, TheatreSquared was provided access to a select group of architects and funding for all phases of design work.
We suddenly found ourselves at the drawing table with the acclaimed New York-based design firm Marvel Architects, Charcoalblue, and every expert required to interpret our vision and put a new 50,000-square-foot theatre building to paper. The financial hurdle associated with design fell away, allowing us to focus on the purity of the process and begin our march forward with a sense of inevitability.
Sitting in the room with this world-class design team has taught us a lot about ourselves. It’s opened our eyes to the fact that designing a building is not just about the logistics and engineering of such an undertaking. It’s about envisioning who we’ll be in 10 or even 50 years, imagining the millions of audience members who will experience our work in that time, and designing a building that makes manifest that vision.
TheatreSquared’s new home will be a place of community – a place of access. As we near the opportunity to unveil the concepts to the public later this year, the City of Fayetteville has now extended our company a 100-year lease on a parcel of land downtown, and the quiet phase of our fundraising campaign is gaining considerable momentum.
The wheels are in motion for TheatreSquared to deliver on its potential and redefine expectations, both regionally and nationally. With the backing of initiatives like the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program, our vision of a permanent home is moving from dream to reality – and with a spirit of innovation – beyond what anyone could ever have imagined just 10 years ago.