Thursday was a bone-chilling walk-through day for the Houston media as the Alley Theatre showed off its progress on the first extended renovation of its building since it was built in 1968.
Turns out, when you renovate a building, at some point you turn off all or most of the electricity and all of the heating. Still, the hour-long trip that began in the lobby and made its way up to the fourth floor and down to the basement where actors will finally have immediate access to showers in their dressing rooms was worth it as journalists were able to see beyond architects' drawings to the start of actual changes.
The sure sign that major changes were under way was the constant refrain of "Okay, where are we now?" as people tried to orient themselves as to what they were standing upon had been and what it was going to be.
A cheer went up when the location of the women's restroom at double the present size was announced.
Another cheer went up when Roger Plank, co-chairman of the capital campaign, announced that the Alley has already raised more than $51 million and is looking to raise $56.5 million by August. The Alley hopes to be back in its theater by September.
Alley Managing Director Dean R. Gladden, who led the hard-hatted crowd through the building, stressed that the Alley is an "iconic" building and that while the changes will make it much more workable and intimate in the future, there was never any thought to leveling it and starting from scratch as most other theater companies in the country have done.
Thanks to improvements in technology since Tropical Storm Allison flooded the basement area of the Alley in 2001, Gladden said they've been able to recapture that space and there are extensive plans to make the area more comfortable for the actors in their dressing rooms.
And even though the audience area loses 50 seats from 824 to 774, Artistic Director Gregory Boyd said the theater will be able to accommodate more people because fewer days will be needed to change from one set to another between shows thanks to the added production area making it easier to move props in and out. "It brings the Alley in one leap into the 21st Century," Boyd said. "It will be the greatest thrust theater in North America."
While the Alley is being renovated, the show goes on at the professional theater's home away from home on the University of Houston's main campus.