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FRONT AND CENTER, BACKSTAGE AND UNDERGROUND : Public spaces to private places, the facility meets all the requirements of a first-rate production

September 21, 1986|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a Times staff writer.

As Charles Lawrence, lead architect on the project, sees it, much of the show at the Orange County Performing Arts Center will be taking place offstage, in "the whole pageantry of patrons coming to a performance."

"They're all dressed up, they look good, they feel good, and they see each other--and we want that to be perceived through the opening of the portal," he says.

From outside at night, when the lobby lights are on, the center's huge glass wall will provide people-watchers with an unimpeded view of audiences milling about before and after a performance and during intermission. For Lawrence, the center's seven-story arch serves to frame this impromptu performance.

"All these things are part of theater," Lawrence says, "not just what you get when you sit in your seat and absorb a performance but everything that goes on."

Once inside the center lobby, people- watchers will be served by a design that emphasizes vertical space, allowing numerous, often-unexpected vistas between floors. "No matter which level you're on, you're not . . . sandwiched (in a) space that's just you and the floor," Lawrence says.

The center's grand staircase, which connects all levels of the building, should be a focal point for promenading patrons. The facing walls of the stair are covered entirely in beveled mirrors, creating the semblance of a kaleidoscope at their intersection. "You get a whole rundown of mirrored images, which is going to be very exciting," Lawrence says.

"It's very people-oriented," project manager Ron Rice says of the center. "It's interesting when you can design a building as magnificent as this is and still it doesn't take everybody's attention. People will be able to very much enjoy watching the other people."

The Performing Arts Center may prove confusing to some first-time visitors.

First, there is the matter of the building's five levels, referred to, in ascending order, as the street, plaza, second, third and fourth levels. Of course, that means what is called the second level is actually the third, what is called the third level is actually the fourth, and the fourth is the fifth.

There is, however, method behind the seeming inconsistency. Orchestra-level seating inside the main theater is accessible from the street and plaza level lobbies. Seating levels 2, 3 and 4 will be entered from the lobbies on the corresponding levels--2, 3 and 4.

Audiences will enter the center on the street and plaza levels.

Once inside, they will be faced with a maze of ramps and stairs and a grand total of 34 separate entrances into the theater. However, a corps of ushers (65 is the planned number) will be on hand to point the county's arts audiences in the right direction. (See the cutaway drawing of the center on Pages 28-29.)

Late Comers Center patrons who arrive after the theater doors close and the show begins will have to content themselves with watching the proceedings on television. Color monitors outside theater entrances will give late comers a look at the performance until a suitable break in the action, when they can be admitted.

"Once the show starts, you will not be allowed into the hall. Management will not allow a show or a production to be interrupted," Rice emphasizes. "So we'll have nice 25-inch monitors for you to watch what you're missing."

Cloakrooms Thanks to a bit of redesigning, center audiences will have a place to hang their hats and coats.

"There was a void space between the inside house wall, along the outer perimeter, and the outside house wall," Rice says. "It was a large void area that would have been lost forever, so we improved it . . . so we could have a cloakroom."

There, center patrons can check their hats, coats and other personal belongings during a performance. The cloak- room is on the plaza level.

Colors and Surfaces

As patrons settle into their seats on opening night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, they will be seeing red--deep ruby red--on the walls, ceiling, seat upholstery and carpeting.

"It's the red of the theater," architect Lawrence says. While the center's main theater is raising eyebrows with its asymmetrical seating plan and ambitious acoustics, the color scheme is a throwback to the grand theaters of Europe. "I think everyone responds to it positively," Lawrence says. "I know that actors looking out into a red theater like the feel of it."

While final decisions on color were not made until after Thomas Kendrick was named executive director in May, 1985, center designers had already designated a limited palette from which to choose. As plans for the interior began, Lawrence says, "we thought that the house itself, in its interior colors, needed to be a deep color." A light color "would reflect stage lighting and be a distraction," the architect adds. So the choice of color "was a given from a practical standpoint."

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