Starting in November 2011, Palm Beach Dramaworks will be offering patrons the same quality of live theater they’ve come to expect from the theater, but in a significantly larger venue. The company announced last week that the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency voted to approve the purchase of the long-inactive Cuillo Center for the Arts and enter into a long-term lease agreement with Dramaworks.
Dramaworks had been in discussions to move into the Cuillo Center for about two years, according to Board Chairman Mark Perlberg. The move is expected to revitalize both Dramaworks, which will expand its seating from 84 to 400, and the centrally located Cuillo Center, a county landmark that has been collecting dust for more than a year (the center’s website still lists events from July 2009 on its current calendar of events).
At Dramaworks’ longtime location on the comparatively remote Banyan Street, “foot traffic is very minimal, if any,” says Perlberg. “A lot more people will see us on Clematis. And the Cuillo has a good success rate. Once people experience it, the repeat attendance rate and the number of people signing up for subscriptions tends to be high.”
To maintain its trademark intimacy, Dramaworks is planning an extensive renovation of the Cuillo’s interior theater and audience chamber. The quality of seating, for me the only weak link at Dramaworks now, will improve substantially, and the increased size will allow the theater to accommodate more patrons and, hopefully, it won’t have to turn anyone away.
“In quite a few individual performances over the completed year, shows were sold out,” Perlberg says. “It’s a high-class problem and it beats the alternative, but it’s never good for any organization when you’re turning people away. In that sense, we really pushed the envelope as hard as we could with extra weeks and extra performances. We’re at a point where, because of the work provided, we need to accommodate more people, and we’re very excited about [the move].”
In addition, the added stage space will allow the presentation of plays that are more epic in nature, with casts of eight, nine or 10 actors. Those Tennessee Williams, Anton Chekhov or Eugene O’Neill plays that require large casts may finally be able to see the light of Dramaworks’ stage.
The future of ticket prices is uncertain, though admission is expected to be comparable to the current rate. Dramaworks, of course, is only the latest theater to announce an expansion. Florida Stage moved into the Kravis Center this summer, and Joe Adler is expected to move his GableStage operation into the legendary Coconut Grove Playhouse – proof that the South Florida theater scene is more robust than ever, economic recessions notwithstanding.