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Diversionary Theatre Uses Pandemic Downtime For Major Remodel

A rendering of what Diversionary Theatre's new lobby with a box office and full bar will look like. The non-profit is taking advantage of pandemic downtime to conduct the major remodel and building improvements.
Safdie Rabines Architects
A rendering of what Diversionary Theatre's new lobby with a box office and full bar will look like. The non-profit is taking advantage of pandemic downtime to conduct the major remodel and building improvements.

Non-profit launches $2.5 million Securing Our Future campaign

Diversionary Theatre is the third oldest continuously run LGBT theater in the United States. It has decided to take advantage of having to be closed for the pandemic by beginning long-overdue building improvements.

COVID-19 has hit arts organizations hard by forcing them to close in-person events. But sometimes there is a silver lining.

Diversionary Theatre Uses Pandemic Downtime For Major Remodel
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

For Diversionary Theatre it has been that they can conduct massive building renovations and improvements while being shuttered for live performances. The remodeling plans were in the works before the pandemic hit but COVID-19 prompted the nonprofit organization to consider some additional changes.

Diversionary Theatre Offers Tour Of Remodel

Executive artistic director Matt Morrow said, "theaters are going to need to address COVID-19 and safety and security measures. So let's take those things that we're learning about COVID-19 and how to make our public spaces more safe and integrate them into the design while we have this opportunity. And so our architects did just that."

That means upgraded air filtration, plenty of hand sanitizing stations, and use of antimicrobial materials.

But what's more exciting for Morrow is improvements to the theater space itself.

"We're getting all new theater seating, which I'm sure our patrons are going to be super happy to hear about because the theater seats before were way too small and very old and uncomfortable. And frankly loud. They had springs that were constantly making noise right in the middle of the most tender moment of our performance," Morrow said. "So we're getting all new theater seats that are high quality and comfortable. The theater seats are going to be a little bit larger. We're also going to be able to expand our main stage. The actual stage itself is going to gain about three feet. And so that's going to increase the type of work that we're able to produce on that stage."

Demolition began two weeks ago and impressive progress has also been made. As someone who has been attending Diversionary for decades, I know the challenges the old building has been for the organization. It is often called an intimate theater space, but for those who have to work in it the better description is cramped because the building was not designed to be a theater venue. So the stage, dressing rooms and scenic shop all had to be crammed into whatever spaces were available. I've always been impressed with how the company has made it all work.

One of the major improvements that patrons will not really get to see if how the behind the scenes facilities are being improved. Actors will actually have their own bathrooms rather than having to share with patrons, and scenic shop will be more easily connected to other areas with new large doors at the back of the stage available to move sets in and out.

Morrow is also excited to unveil the new lobby space.

"Our lounge is going to be transformed into our third performance venue, which we're really excited about," Morrow said. "It's going to be a cabaret space and it's going to have a full bar experience. And so we've been working really hard with our designers and our architects on what it means to honor the gay bar of yesterday. And so our cabaret is going to stand in honor of the gay bar as a historical place where our community gathered and organized and commune with one another and really launched the LGBTQ movement that we know of today."

The entire remodel will cost $2.5 million and the organization is at about 85% funded. To complete the funding it has just launched a campaign called Securing Our Future.

"We are we've been fundraising from our closest friends up until this point, and now we're turning to the public and starting the public phase of the campaign," Morrow explained.

While no arts organization wants to be closed, at least Diversionary Theatre is putting its downtime to the best use possible. Of course that is only making audiences more eager to see it reopen.

Part of Diversionary Theatre's building remodel will include creating safer and better stair access to the second floor theatre space.
Safdie Rabines Architects
Part of Diversionary Theatre's building remodel will include creating safer and better stair access to the second floor theatre space.

Diversionary lists the following improvements and renovations as part of its Securing Our Future Comprehensive Campaign:

Programming improvements

Redefining the theater entrance and updating the lobby with the Stuart Schwartz and Karl Peterson Box Office and a new bar area in honor of the LGBTW history, Ye Olde Gay Bar;

– Adding a new performance space with The Austin and Joann Clark Cabaret;

– A brand new Randy Clark and Tom Maddox, M.D. Education Center — A resource for Arts Education and the Lambda Archives of San Diego;

– Replacing the aging wood staircase with the new steel Dr. Mark Niblack and Las Patronas Foundation Staircase;

– Remodeling exterior façade and marquee;

– Upgrading the scenic shop, sound, lighting, and production equipment;

– Remodeling the Black Box Theatre into the Reuel K. Olin New Play Development Center;

– Expanding The Robert L. Granat and Alfred J. Mazur Mainstage and increasing seating size;

–Adding a restroom for performers;

New Safety Features

– Optimized air circulation, including Merv 13 Filtration and Bi-Polar Ionization;

– Renovating restrooms with touch-less facilities;

– Improving ADA compliance and accessibility;

– Retractable security gate;

– Video security surveillance;

– Touch-less facilities in entrances and the restrooms;

– Increased seating size;

– Hygienic, easy to clean surfaces;

– Sanitizing stations;

– Antimicrobial materials.