The curtain is officially up at Wyly Theatre, Dallas’ newest live arts destination. Part of the iconic AT&T Performing Arts Center in the heart of the Dallas Arts District, the 600-seat theatre is an important addition to Dallas’ vibrant arts culture, and the perfect place to catch a performance while visiting Dallas.
The Wyly Theatre is a collection of experimental design ideas left with a purposefully raw feel. Unlike other performance spaces in the Dallas Arts District, there’s no grand sweeping limestone lobby (the Meyerson Symphony Center), gleaming glass and steel façade (the neighboring Winspear Opera House) or instantly iconic design (the Nasher Sculpture Center). Instead, the Wyly’s box-like appearance elicits puzzled reactions from perplexed passersby. “Really? A metal-rod box?”
Yes, that’s right: the Wyly is essentially a large cubic structure wrapped in vertical aluminum rods. To truly appreciate the Wyly’s innovative construction, you’ll need to attend a performance. You’ll enter at street level and descend down a wide concrete ramp into the stark concrete and gray metal lobby. Walking in is like entering the underworld. Even if you’re there to watch a lighthearted production of Cabaret, it’s hard not to imagine Oedipus and other Greek tragic heroes battling the gods and their fates as you descend into the dark space.
To access the main performance space from the lobby, you will ascend a tiny dark staircase. It’s the complete architectural antithesis to previous generations’ opulent, grand ballroom staircases. This descent into darkness and subsequent ascent into the bright theatre also creates a sense of disorientation, as patrons are visually transported from their busy outside lives into the intimate world of the performance.
Unlike typical theatres that place auxiliary spaces, such as the rehearsal rooms and lobby, just outside the main stage, the Wyly Theatre places these rooms above and below (hence the underground lobby). This placement allows the stage itself to be enclosed in glass on three sides. Directors can incorporate the outside world into the play as a backdrop, or lower the large blackout shades to shut it out. Opinion on this openness is mixed. Other theatres that feature glass stage walls typically overlook the water, a more tranquil and beautiful setting than downtown Dallas.
The Wyly Theatre’s true design genius lies in its ability to seamlessly transform between proscenium, thrust, arena, traverse, studio, and flat floor configurations. Give a small crew a few hours and a performance can have an entirely new stage – giving set designers and directors virtually unlimited creative power.
The Wyly Theatre, like all major public works construction projects, has not been without controversy. The project began as a collaboration between the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus, who formerly ran Koolhaas’ New York office. Halfway through the project, Prince-Ramus abruptly left Koolhaas’ firm to start his own architecture firm, REX architects, and took the Wyly Theatre project with him. Though Koolhaas remained connected to the project, it was largely Prince-Ramus who saw it through to completion, and he is credited as the principal in charge.
And the controversy didn’t stop when it opened. Patrons complained about the epic trek down from the street to the actual theatre entrance (especially precarious during bad weather), the uncomfortable lime green sherbet seating (hard on the eyes and the body), and the cramped, noisy lobby (it completely lacks sound deadening materials). The seats have now been refurbished with new cushions and many re-angled for more comfortable viewing. The opening of an underground parking garage with direct access to the theatre has mitigated the epic trek, although the lobby remains cramped and loud.
Controversy aside, catching a show at the Wyly is a must for any visitor to Dallas, whether you’re a performing arts aficionado or just happen to love the catchy tunes in Mamma Mia. A full listing of show times is available on the AT&T Performing Arts Center website (www.attpac.org).
Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (214-880-0202) or in person at the Winspear Opera House Box Office, Park Place Remote Box Office or AT&T Performing Arts Center Official Information Kiosk. Discounts of up to 25% are sometimes available for special performances. Check the AT&T Performing Arts Center for details and sign-up for their e-newsletter to be alerted to special deals.
Make a night out of your performance with dinner out at one of the many nearby restaurants. Select restaurants including Jorges, Dallas Fish Market, The Capital Grille and Tei-An offer special pre-theatre prix fixe meals for $35, $55 or $75 depending on location. Prix fixe vouchers include tax and tip, and can be purchased through the AT&T Performing Arts Center website.
The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to curtain call, and seating can begin 30 minutes prior to the performance. If you arrive late for a performance, an usher will seat you at the first appropriate time. You may be sat in the closest available seat until Intermission, when you can relocate to your regular seat.
If you or a member of your party require accessibility assistance, alert the Box Office when your tickets are purchased, or contact the Box Office 24 hours in advance of the performance. Assisted Listening Devices and booster seat cushions are available at Guest Services.
Leave the car at home and take the DART to the Arts District. Take the blue or red line to the Pearl Street DART Rail Station and walk four blocks to reach the AT&T Performing Arts Center. A new trolley system also links the Arts District to Uptown.
If you are staying at a nearby hotel (and there are great options, including The Fairmont Dallas, The Adolphus, and Aloft Dallas Downtown), it is easier to take a cab than to fight the traffic and drive.
Pre-paid self-parking is available for $15 and valet parking is $25. Offsite parking varies but is usually within the same price range. While parking has been a problem in the past (especially when nearby museums held after-hours events), a new underground parking garage that directly connects to the Wyly Theatre has alleviated much of the parking headache. You can purchase your parking access online or through the Box Office.
To reach the Wyly Theatre, located at 2401 Flora Street directly across from the Winspear Opera, take the Woodall Rogers Freeway exit from I-30, I-35 and I-45. From the service road, turn on to Jack Evans street for access to the Lexus Silver Parking and Lexus Red Parking lots.