Image: Nick Esquer

Dust and banging noises have hung in the air at Texas and Louisiana downtown since last July as the Alley Theatre has been undergoing top-to-bottom renovations, the first major facelift since its inception in 1968. But all that comes to an end in the next few weeks as the $56.5 million project nears completion.

Members of the media were invited to don red hard hats for a tour of the space earlier this week. We all sort of looked like diehard Devo fans as we gathered in the lobby. We could hear loud bangs from the higher levels of the theater as we looked up from the ground floor of the unfinished lobby—so unfinished, a pigeon flew by. Amid the plastered ceilings, half-joined pipes and tangled wires waiting to be stapled, it looked like that scene in The Dark Knight Rises when Bane blasts through the floor of Wayne Enterprises and his henchmen spelunk down into Gotham’s core. After a brief overview of the project and a tour from Alley managing director Dean Gladden, we headed up to the third floor in a large freight elevator.

The highlight of the third floor is the lobby bar, which will have sleek look complete with backlit red glass and dark granite. Audience members will be able to sip spirits while taking in a charming view of downtown from the outdoor balcony. Something else that will make future guests happy: a 24-stall women's restroom.

Image: Nick Esquer

Heading below decks we tunneled through a thin hallway to the spot where costumes and sets will be kept, near an incline to backstage. Along the wall, we were pointed to a yellow line about eight feet high with royal blue paint filling the void beneath to the floor. This marker indicates the water levels after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, which caused extensive damage to the Neuhaus Stage and the props and costume departments. (The recent Memorial Day downpour did nothing to hurt construction as workers were simply able to Shop-Vac the wet concrete and get on with it.)

Saving the best for last, we headed to the Alley’s backstage to take in its view of the house. With the new four-story fly loft still in skeleton phase, we gazed out, imagining what it would look like during a full production when audiences fill the seats on October 2. What those theatergoers might not see are the behind-the-scenes additions for cast and crew. A trap stage floor will have the ability to house an orchestra pit and deliver actors and scenery through the stage floor, and actors will have more room to roam and prepare for performances with additional dressing rooms, restrooms and warm-up spaces. 

Other improvements include the multi-zoned A/C system (unfortunately not enjoyed by our group at tour time), better lighting and more handrails. The Alley has needed a deep clean and a facelift for a while, and we're happy to report it's looking good. 

 

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