The Austin Chronicle

State Theatre: The show will go on, just not very soon

By Robert Faires, February 9, 2007, Arts

Almost eight months after the State Theatre was flooded by a broken water main, causing several hundred thousand dollars in damage and forcing the theatre to cancel most of its 2007-2008 season, suspend production indefinitely, and lay off its staff, Austin Theatre Alliance Executive Director Ken Stein took to the State's ripped-up stage to assure Austin that the theatre would indeed rise from the splashes to present live performance again – just not very soon. A four-person task force formed by the ATA board has recommended that no plans for production be made for another 18 months, at least.

The lengthy delay isn't due solely to the amount of time needed to make repairs and upgrades to the building. Construction on the former Reynolds-Penland building, with which the State shares a wall and a basement, is also a factor. Architect Sinclair Black is turning the one-story retail building at 721 Congress into a six-story development with a restaurant and retail, a floor for offices, and four floors for condos. So naturally work on the project – especially in the basement, where the State has maintained its dressing rooms, rehearsal hall, and wing space for the stage – will have an impact on the State's basement and auditorium, where the bulk of the renovations need to be made. Stein said that it makes more sense to allow the project next door to get further along before starting on the State's construction work, which will include replacing the theatre's stage; fixing or replacing four rows of theatre seats; refurbishing the dressing rooms, rehearsal room, and basement storage areas that were flooded; separating the State's plumbing, electrics, air conditioning, and heating from those at 721 Congress; replacing flood-damaged technical equipment; replacing a wooden stairway with a metal one; and addressing acoustical issues in the house. Stein pegged the cost of the flood damage at just more than $370,000 and suggested another half-million might be needed for the additional renovations, though he stressed that figure as preliminary.

While the State is waiting to begin these repairs, the task force will be working to figure out what the State might look like once it's back up and running. Producing company? Presenting house? Primarily a rental space for local theatre companies, dance troupes, comedians, and musicians? Stein says that all options are on the table at this point, and the task force will be studying similar theatres around the country for ideas, as well as collecting information from artists in the community as to how they think the State might best serve Austin. The only thing that's definite, he made clear, is that the State will remain a venue for live performance. For now, the doors are open, with the State Theatre School of Acting continuing to offer classes there and offices for Austin Script Works as well as ATA administrative staff working in the facility. And the possibility exists for making more use of the State lobby and even the auditorium prior to the target date of the 2008-2009 season. Stein just called for a little more patience. "We're taking it one day at a time," he said. For more information, visit

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