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Empty Orchestra.

How many times have you walked by an amphitheater and wondered “when’s the next show?”  Maybe it’s just me.  Band shells and amphitheaters are great examples of outdoor performance space.  They are also an example of single use performance spaces.  Programming is everything with these features.  Some are seasonal concert venues that feature musicians on a weekly or monthly basis.  Others are what I like to call “spec venues” that are outfitted for an impressive performance , but due to lacking programming, are more of a visual feature for a site.

Developers frequently include spec venues in subdivisions and mixed use centers.  They are a visually pleasing element and just about everyone can identify them on a plan.  I’m a firm believer in high quality outdoor spaces and finding new ways to attract people outside.  

Flexibility is key with high-yield outdoor space.  A public space should be able to exist as a concert venue one day while becoming an impromptu picnic area the next.  Imagine having a picnic in a band shell.  Flexible entertainment space, as we will call it, works best when it has three basic attributes: shade, views, and a raised position.  Shade is necessary, mostly for protection from the sun.  Multiple Views to and from the space are key to make those using the space feel seen.  Being raised at least 12” above the surrounding area helps those using the space feel less exposed and for concerts improves visibility of performers.  

The placement and orientation of a performance space is important to consider.  Whenever possible, A performance space should face north for several reasons.  During the hottest and sunniest days of the year, the sun angle is high and casts shadows slightly to the north at noon.  If a stage includes a shade structure, then northern orientation will ensure that the performer is shaded throughout the hottest parts of the day.  The northern orientation also creates a pleasing viewing experience for both the viewer and performers since they will not be looking into the rising or setting of the sun.

I would recommend hiring an electrical engineer and an audio video consultant to determine the appropriate electrical service for the anticipated demands of the performance area.  I remember playing a show at a bar in college.  We plugged our equipment in without understanding the appropriate voltage needed for our gear.  As the bassist and I sang into the microphones we occasionally were shocked on the lips.  In retrospect this was likely a very dangerous situation – remember Almost Famous?  Be sure to account for all of the equipment, lighting, and other potential electric draws to ensure a safe and uninterrupted performance.

The Bottom Line

  • Make sure your project really needs a performance space and avoid expensive, unnecessary amenities.
  • Design spaces for daily use and make them welcoming for various events.
  • Use the location and orientation of the space to your advantage.
  • Hire licensed electrical experts and follow their recommendations.