Architecture For the Amusement Industry


^yoME three years ago Doctor Allen D. Albert, on behalf of Rufus Dawes, President of the Chicago World’s Fair, requested me to develop a program of theatrical entertainment for the Fair. Their hope was that it would be of a different variety and of a more constructive kind than that usually assembled on exposition grounds. Considerable thought having been given the subject, a plan was embodied in a letter which was submitted to Mr. Dawes and his associates.

Upon the approval of Mr. Dawes, I sent a letter outlining the plan in a general way to a few persons of international standing in the creative phases of the theater, including Granville Barker, Josef Capek, Jean Cocteau, Jacques Copeau, Gordon Craig, Alexandra Exter, Paul Green, Isaac Grunewald, Jean Hugo, Leopold Jessner, Louis Jouvet, Robert Edmond Jones, Georg Kaiser, Visvolod Meyerhold, Eugene O’Neill, Georges Pitoeff, Emil Pirchan, Luigi Pirandello, Isaac Rabinovitch, Max Reinhardt, Oscar Schlemmer, Constantin Stanislavsky, Igor Stravinski, Edward Sturm, Alexander Tairoff, Richard Teschner, Van H. Wijdeveld.

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This letter of October 23, 1929, asked for comments on my proposed method of arriving at a plan, suggestions, especially in regard to the organiza­tion that should be set up, matters of personnel, types of theaters to be built, types of plays to be produced, dramatists to be commissioned, and so on. The gist of the plan as set forth in my letter may be indicated by the following excerpt:

— The Board of Governors desires to bring together the outstanding the­atrical talent of the world, in so far as such a thing is possible, and to select this talent not for what it has done, nor for reputation, but for its poten­tialities toward various future developments in the theater; with the idea not so much of showing but of inspiring varied forms of dramatic expres­sion in writing, staging and acting. The program, briefly, in its present

state, is as follows: to erect several theaters distinctly radical and free in their form and proportions, offering unlimited scope to every type but es­pecially to encourage new forms of dramatic writing; to invite the out­standing dramatists of the world either to write plays especially for these thea­ters or to submit plays to us for pre­mier production — these to be of a distinctly experimental type; to bring to Chicago, sufficiently in advance, six or eight of the younger and more forward-looking directors and de­signers from various parts of the world, each of whom would stage two different plays under the best conditions. . . .

It had been agreed that the theatrical

fare within the exposition grounds should differ radically from the entertain­ment offered in the standard Chicago theaters, to eliminate any element of competition.

The letter met with more enthusiasm than I had anticipated. With only two exceptions, constructive replies of ten to twenty pages came in reply. As a result of this program, the Architectural Commission for the Chicago World’s Fair associated me with them in the capacity of advisor on theatrical matters, and likewise appointed me to design the exterior illumination of the buildings and grounds. The first direct assignment I was given was to furnish a few concrete examples of various types of theater and restaurant architec­ture. These structures were to be apart from the general run of theaters and.

restaurants. In the case of the theaters, they were to vary sufficiently in form so as to impose on directors requirements and points of view new to America.

Up to the time of the financial crash, these de­signs were an in­tegral part of the architectur­al program. The economic situa­tion has affected the plans for the Fair and only those buildings are being built that are abso­lutely essential to making the re­vised program effective. Of the five theaters de­scribed below, four were de­signed for the Fair. They indi­cate, I believe, and not too

obviously, the purpose for which they are intended. Any one seeing these buildings or even examining photographs of them would realize that they were associated with the amusement industry.

Theater Number 14,,2< is a small inti­mate theater, especially suited to intense dra­matic plays of the close-up type such as those of Ibsen. It is de­signed on the same principle as a European circus or a boxing ring, with the stage in the center of the build­ing.127 The audience surrounds the stage. Separating the stage from the auditorium is a pit in which there are steps127 forming an ap­proach for actors to the stage.

This circular audito­rium has no balcony and is only six rows deep. Because each seat commands an equally

good view of the entire stage and is equally ‘* the best in the house,” the reve­nue from these eight hundred seats, all at the " top price,” is equal to twice that number at the usual " sliding scale.”

Surrounding the dome which spans both stage and auditorium are two concentric light galleries with locations for lamps at any conceivable angle.12* All lamp positions are invisible to the seated audience during the perform­ance. Inside the circular railing in front of the first row of seats is a row of lamps for throwing the light upward (as footlights do on a proscenium stage). The overhead light comes from an angle of forty-five degrees, which is the most favorable light for facial expression. All lamps are controlled from a single switchboard.

Surrounding the auditorium is a broad promenade with windows.127 Pro­jecting from the promenade is an upstairs lounge. On either side of this are retiring rooms for men and women and an outdoor terrace on the cantilev­ered marquee.12*

The ground floor consists of entrance foyer,12′ box offices, manager’s office, producer’s offices, and assembly room for actors in conjunction with dressing rooms and stage, stage director’s offices, stage manager’s offices, stage-door foyer and waiting room, and the freight elevator entrance. The dressing rooms are under the auditorium on the ground floor.12′ Each has a bath, a shower and an outside window. These rooms radiate from a passage around the stairs that lead to the stage.

In this theater, scenery would be restricted to what is commonly termed properties, that is, objects such as furniture, and to skeleton constructions. Storage space for scenery and properties is provided in the basement.”0 All scene changes are made in the basement under the stage. The scenery is set on two movable platforms in the basement, which are raised and lowered by hydraulic power.12* When raised, one platform forms the stage floor. Mean-

while, the other is being " set.” These platforms can be used alternately and the substitution of one for the other requires only thirty seconds.

Many theaters in other eras have been more flexible and have offered greater possibilities for variety to both the dramatist and the producer than the proscenium-type stage of to-day. To test the principle of theater Num­ber 14, you need only to put a wrestling match or boxing bout on the stage of a theater and see how tame it is in comparison with the effect it gives in the middle of an arena, with the audience surrounding it. The same thing can be achieved with a play.

The obvious criticism that might arise on inspecting the plans for theater Number 14 is the thought that the actor will always have his back to some part of the auditorium. This is true. But the proportion of time that the actor has his back turned towards any portion of the auditorium is no greater than the present practice with the proscenium stage. Furthermore, this audi­torium is so small and so proportioned that a voice will be clearly heard in all parts of the auditorium, regardless of the direction the actor faces.

To illustrate my contention, I have selected the most difficult staging situ­ation in any play that I know — the scene in " King Lear ” where Lear is dividing his kingdom among his three daughters. I have made a drawing to illustrate this situation.”1 Lear has his back to the part of the auditorium from which the drawing is made. Let us assume that on a proscenium stage he would face the audience; then the three daughters would have their backs to


the audience or they would stand at one side, which would be unnatural, un – dramatic, and unconvincing. What appears, therefore, to be the worst posi­tion, that of Lear with his back to the audience, is best, for in this particular situation it is more important for the audience to see the expressions and reactions of the three daughters than of their father. But, with the audience on all sides of the stage, half of them do see the king’s face at this moment.

On the stage of this theater, the action can be so directed that any impor­tant actor need have his back to no one part of the audience more than one eighth of the time. It is no more difficult to accomplish this than it is on the present stage to keep actors always facing the audience. It never occurs to us to criticize a boxing bout, a baseball game, a six-day bicycle race, the circus, or a cabaret performance because part of the time the protagonist has his back to us. A stage of this type would have a strong tendency to restore one of the great arts of the theater which has been almost entirely lost — pantomime.

The Temple of Music112 was intended not only as a building for the Expo­sition but as a permanent structure for Chicago itself. The auditorium is suitable for symphony orchestras, choral festivals, and small chamber con-

certs. It is so designed that it complies with the two extremes of seating an audience: ten thousand persons listening to two hundred musicians and six hundred singers, or for use as a chamber concert hall to accommodate an audience of only eight hundred persons and a string quartet.

The stage, as fully extended, is a semicircle sixty-four feet in diameter, topped by a half dome. The auditorium is built in four sectional units with­out columns or balconies to impair the view or acoustics from any seat.1’6 The walls and ceiling of each section form a dome which can be rolled back on itself, throwing the building open to the stars on a summer evening. Col­lapsible partitions permit variations in the size of the hall to meet different requirements. The necessary box offices and lounges are provided for each of the four sections.1” Entrance foyers open onto a common terrace seventy-two feet wide. Two additional exterior promenades open off of upper levels.1” A two hundred and fifty-six foot tower houses rehearsal rooms, studios, caril­lons, dressing rooms, and offices. Beneath the auditorium and terrace, a base­ment gives entrance and parking space for seventeen hundred and twenty automobiles.1” There is additional parking space adjacent to each entrance of the building. Four lanes through the basement are so regulated that they

easily take care of incoming and out­going traffic. At the four entrances, one hundred cars per minute can be un­loaded.

There are four main entrances to the Temple of Mu­sic. The one you use is determined by the number on your ticket. These four entrance foyers are circular.’” If you wish to go directly to your seat, and it is in the lower part of the auditorium, you walk almost in a straight line from the entrance door into the auditori­um. If your seat is in the upper part of the auditorium, you go up circular stairs [3]

to the higher level. If you wish to wait for some one before taking your seat, you go down a few steps into a circular lounge that accommodates three hun­dred persons. Here you can wait in comfort for your friends, who upon entering, can easily locate you, as the lounge is in the center of and below the rest of the foyer.

This building is designed entirely for musical entertainment, not for dramatic productions. An outstanding feature of the auditorium is its divi­sion into four sub-elements15* which eliminate the vast armory-like or expo­sition hall characteristic of a building seating ten thousand persons in a single mass on one floor. Sitting within any one of the four circular wings of this auditorium, a person can view at the most only about one half of the audi­torium’s total seating capacity and yet see the full stage.

This building was originally planned for the Chicago lake front where it was adjacent to many suburbs by motor boat. For persons arriving by boat there are three landing docks at the star point base of the tower.155

The Water Pageant Theater is designed as a series of an­chored barges in a lagoon or lake within a public park.157 The barges are locked together in varying combinations and the combination is changed as de­sired. It is for the use of spec-

tacular pageants, pantomimes, choral festivals and orchestral concerts. It is an open air theater for summer evening use only.

The auditorium proper seats two thousand persons. Separating the audi­torium section from the stage is a canal, permitting watercraft to take part in the pageants. Л portion of the canal is roped off for four hundred canoes. The fifteen hundred occupants of these have the choice seats and watch the performance without landing.13* At either end of this canal are traffic towers to control the movements of the canoes. The auditorium is divided into four main sections. There are five aisles and a promenade at the back of each sec­tion. The two side sections rise above the water level from four to thirteen feet, and the two center sections rise from four to twenty-two feet. In the rear of each section are wide flights of stairs leading from the landings to the highest level. To the sides and rear of the auditorium are radiating piers sup­

plying docks for seven hundred and sixty-eight small boats simultaneously.15* The stage consists of a series of platforms, and likewise built on barges, connected by stairs and under passages. Starting at eight inches above the water, these platforms build up to a height of thirty-six feet. Above are towers and a wall which serve as the background for the stage and eliminate the necessity for scenery. The stage is illuminated by flood lights situated at the rear of the auditorium and by side lights concealed on the stage group of barges, and by other lights concealed on the stage itself. Auditorium aisles are illuminated by lights at the ends of the seats on each row. General illumi­nation for the auditorium is from flood lights located both at the rear of the auditorium and on the stage. These latter may, as required, serve as a "blinder” replacing the conventional curtain. The irregular shape of the stage, together with its numerous levels, permit variety in stage direction and

in the ensemble movement. Underneath the high portion of the stage, in addi­tion to property rooms and offices, are three floors of dressing rooms for actors, providing sixteen single dressing rooms for principals with a shower bath for each pair of rooms. Six dressing rooms accommodate a chorus of two hundred and sixteen with toilets and showers adjoining. There are four actors’ assembly rooms between the dressing rooms and entrances to the stage.

The water pageant theater with its docks and canals is 468 feet on the longitudinal axis and 632 feet at its widest point. The auditorium is 112 feet deep at the center and 294 feet wide at its greatest spread. The distance from the point of the apron to the rear of the stage towers is 172 feet; and from wall to wall the stage measures 161 feet. The towers at the back of the stage are 80 feet high. The average width of the canal dividing the acting area of the stage from the auditorium is 13 5 feet.

The stage is so designed and so variable in form that it serves the require­ments of any kind of mass production — dramatic and musical. It would be ideal for reviving the glorious old pageants such as were given in the days of
the Italian Renaissance, when Leonardo Da Vinci designed them.

Ballets mirroring them­selves in the water would be a spectacle to hold any audience. The particular requirement for the effectiveness of such a theater is an ap­propriate setting in a large park with a body of water sufficient to set it off, and the right person as its directing head.

In 1931 I was invited by the United States of Soviet Russia to enter their competition for The Ukrainian State Theater to be built at Karkov. This building has as its outstanding feature a fagade which becomes the stage for a great mass production,”* with the plaza in front of the building serving as the auditorium. This arrangement was not stipulated in the specifications provided by the Russian Government, but was the result of another idea which they imposed. They required a rostrum from which speakers could address sixty thousand persons assembled in the square. I designed this and, as permitted in the terms of the competition, went further, supplying a stage on which five thousand actors might play for the same audience. The build­ing combines three complete theaters, the Indoor Theater, an Open-Air Theater on the roof, and the Outdoor Mass Theater. In addition, there are complete workshops,140 rehearsal rooms, storages, offices, and social and dress­ing quarters for a large acting company.

The outstanding feature of the design of the Indoor Theater, so far as the

from either the ground floor or from the foyer by twelve entrance doors on each level.141 There is a system of stairways from the vestibule to the foyer and from the backs of the lower and middle tiers to the fronts of the middle and upper tiers. The foyer,14* located above the main vestibule, has an area of twenty-one thousand three hundred square feet and is thirty-eight feet in height. It affords access to the middle and upper tiers of seats in the audi­torium and to the restaurant and refreshment bar located in front of the theater building.144

Four boxes are provided in the first two rows of the middle tier for the use of visiting diplomats and societies.144 They may be reached from the ground floor or foyer levels. Private reception rooms are adjacent to these boxes in the foyer.

All auditorium lighting is indirect, being accomplished by flood lights placed in the recesses of the ceiling which follow in plan the curve of the seats.142 Above and behind these ceiling recesses are located spot lights and bridges for illumination of the stage.141 The main light bridge is located above and in front of the proscenium. Cinema galleries with attendant rooms are provided in the space above the foyer and behind the auditorium.


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The stage mechanical equipment is of the most advanced order. The pro­scenium opening is designed so that it can be reduced or enlarged for any size of scene — for a scene with three persons or a scene with a thousand.145 The arch may be expanded from its minimum width of opening, 27 feet, to a maximum width of 196 feet. The height may vary from a minimum of 16 feet to a maximum of 5 8 feet, at which point stage and auditorium would be one. The change is accomplished without in any way sacrificing the visibility of the audience and may be made during performances.

The stage floor is composed of five units:144 Main Stage, fore-stage, and rear stage, all of which are supported on hydraulic plungers, and the right and left proscenium stages, which are stationary.145 Under ordinary circumstances, the fore-stage will be used by the orchestra or as the front auditorium seating section. It may be raised from the level of the upper basement to either the auditorium or stage level.1 5 Or it may remain at a level below the auditorium floor, be set with steps and become a lower fore-stage — permitting actors to enter from underneath the audience.142 The stage organism has been so de­signed that the entire stage floor is exclusively the actors’ realm; all scenery being pre-set on the movable stages at the basement level.145 The movable stages are operated from a control room located under the left proscenium stage. From his station the operator can watch the progress of the play, the shifting of all scenery in the basement, in the " flies ”, and on the stage proper. All stage units are " trapped ” over their entire area. The exits from the traps are adjacent to the upper basement level.145

The permanent cyclorama extends around the entire stage144 and from the stage floor to the underside of the gridiron.145 It is of soundproof construction, excluding all exterior and " offstage ” noise. It is lighted from the light pit (upper basement level) which extends around the rear of the rear stage, or from above. The gridiron is designed to permit not only the flying of scenery,


but the hanging of several productions at one time, as well as automatic stor­age of unused scenery in a fire-proof enclosure at either side of the stage.145 In a repertory schedule this eliminates the necessity of dismantling one pro­duction to replace with another between performances. It permits of inter­changing scenery in the flies during a performance. The gridiron accommo­dates one hundred and sixty sets of lines, each set being so arranged that it travels from a position over the stage to the scenery-storing space at either side. Furthermore, the gridiron extends out over the apron section, in front of the proscenium, which is a distinct innovation.145 When scenery for a par­ticular scene is removed from the stage — instead of being raised into the flies after the performance, it will again be lowered to the stage, wrapped up and sent to storage — by this mechanism; upon reaching the flies, it may be automatically transported to the fireproof storage section in another part of the building. In the side spaces of the stage, commonly spoken of as the " wings ”, are large assembly rooms located on both sides of and adjacent to the stage. These waiting rooms are for waiting actors, and for stage man­agers to order and check crowds of five hundred actors with their properties, prior to their entrance onto the stage.146 These two rooms are directly acces­sible to all dressing rooms by means of stairways and large passenger ele­vators. They are separated from the stage by soundproof vestibules and may be used for rehearsal space.

It is possible to join any and all parts of this auditorium directly with the stage.145 When so arranged, actors and audience may walk directly on to any part of the stage from any part of the auditorium. That portion of the stage which extends into the auditorium and is known as the- apron can project varying distances, up to a maximum of fifty feet beyond the proscenium line, by merely pressing a button at the stage control board.

Processes involved in the manufacture of scenery are provided for on the

basis of single line operation. After be­ing built in-the car­penter shop, scenery is lifted by elevator to the painting shop. Upon completion of painting, the scenery is lifted to the storage rooms.145 From stor­age, the scenery is transported directly to the stage. All scen – *ery workshops are lo­cated on the right side of the stage, one above another. Cos­tume cutting, sewing, fitting, and storage rooms are on the left side of the stage.145 The concentration of workshops in one lo­cation is consistent with modern methods of production in the movement of work from one department

to another. The maximum of natural light is provided, as all workshop walls, exterior and interior, are entirely of glass.140

Actors’ quarters, including dressing rooms, social rooms, restaurant, and library are located in the building directly behind the stage.146 These quar­ters, without regard for precedent, are as comfortable as they can be made. The individual dressing rooms for all major members of the company number over a hundred, all of which are as comfortable as a room with a bath in a modern hotel.

On the roof is an Open-Air Theater seating two thousand persons.15’ The open-air theater is in direct communication with the street by escalators on either side of the building,146 making it unnecessary to enter the structure to reach it. On the other hand, it is also in direct communication with the indoor theater. The same dressing rooms function for the main theater and for the roof theater. On either side of the open-air roof theater are two large enclosed foyers for use in the event of sudden rain. The open-air theater is de­signed for the presentation of plays and concerts and for public assemblies not in excess of two thousand persons.

The Outdoor Mass Theater accommodates an audience of sixty thousand persons who may be seated or standing in the plaza upon which the building faces.15’ The entire facade of the building is designed for the use of its exterior form as a tremendous stage.145 Five thousand actors at one time can perform on it and be clearly visible to the entire audience.

Powerful flood lights and sound amplifiers located in the six pylons or tow­ers which stand in the plaza furnish illumination for the facade of the build­ing and amplify any sound which, may occur upon it.15’ They also furnish general illumination for the plaza. A speaker’s platform is located at the foyer level in front of the restaurant facing the plaza. With the assistance of the sound-amplification system located in the six pylons, the speaker, without

raising his voice, can be heard by the entire audience. Access to the Mass Stage is obtained from the Open-Air Roof Theater and it is connected with the plaza by means of stairs, ramps and an exterior promenade which ex­tends around the front of the theater at the foyer level and which also serves as the audience’s main exit from the foyer level.139

There is no question in my mind but that theater architecture will break away from the antiquated proscenium formula. The motion picture is help­ing it along. By its technique, it affords immensely diversified entertainment which, except for the fact that the medium is frankly two-dimensional, can give us a sense of all outdoors or, on the other hand, the most intimate corner of a room. This medium is much more flexible than the present proscenium acting stage, which is the most limiting form the stage has ever had. Conse­quently, I feel certain that the theater and cinema will grow farther and farther apart as time goes on — to the advantage of both.

The cinema, as it grows up, will become a much more distinct medium than it is at present. Just now it is in a state of transition, reflecting and using talent and ideas straight from the theater. Ten years hence, moving-picture technique will have progressed to such a degree that screen presentations will be scarcely recognizable in comparison with offerings to-day. It will be found that the cinema can do everything that can be done upon the proscenium type of stage. This is the best thing that could happen to the stage, because the theater will then fall back upon its own special facilities. These facilities are primarily of a three-dimensional order.

Updated: September 30, 2015 — 6:12 pm