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Layout of performing arts center changes

Outdoor is in and indoor is out for the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which announced changes to its construction plan Thursday.

Alongside a 2,050-seat theater being built as the centerpiece for the $485 million downtown center, the original plan called for a midsize, 650-seat hall that has now been shelved. But an outdoor theater that can play to 800 people will be constructed in Symphony Park, the proposed two-acre section that will complement the center, and the building material for the complex has changed from an earth-red, metaquartzite limestone to an Indiana limestone, giving the center more of a gray-tan look.

The midsize hall being eliminated was to be anchored by the Nevada Ballet Theatre, which will now share the larger hall with the Las Vegas Philharmonic, both of which will be resident companies. The 2,050-seater also will host touring Broadway productions.

"The new thinking for them is: Let’s perform to bigger audiences because that allows having a live orchestra, which is what they felt they’ve lacked," says Myron Martin, president of the Smith Center, about NBT’s shift out of the midsize theater and the rationale to eliminate it. "If you take them off the table as the main user of that hall, what was left was a little of this and a little of that."

Two smaller theaters, a 300-seat cabaret space, and a 200-seat Black Box theater, will still be built, both inside an educational outreach center that also will include classroom facilities. The moderately sized hall could have held performances by a regional theater company, or LORT (League of Resident Theaters), which uses a prescribed number of Equity actors, but Martin says that the city already is developing one in the Nevada Conservatory Theatre at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"That’s the direction the Nevada Conservatory Theatre is going in," confirms Jeffrey Koep, dean of UNLV’s College of Fine Arts. "The loss of the Smith Center theater is not good for Las Vegas, but (NCT) moving into such a thing is not even a possibility. NCT is part of this university and we support that, to have professionals come in to work with the students."

Numerous performing arts centers throughout the country have midsize halls, including those in Los Angeles; Orange County, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco.

The outdoor theater, which could be used for "Shakespeare in the Park"-types of productions and other performances, still is being thought out, Martin says. "Outdoor performances would probably mimic the performing arts season from September through May, with time out in December and January." As for summer shows in blazing hot temperatures, Martin says that their landscape architect is "studying the use of shade so we can expand more into the summer months," but emphasizes there will be no partial enclosures around the stage he envisions as completely open-air.

The shift in limestone building materials stemmed from a recommendation from David Schwarz, the center’s architect.

"Metaquartzite had not been used in this environment before and we could not secure testing to satisfy ourselves it would work," Schwarz says, "so we reverted back to the tried and true Indiana limestone." The material has been used in the exteriors of numerous iconic structures, including the Pentagon, the Empire State Building, the Lincoln Memorial and the new, in-construction Yankee Stadium.

The Smith Center is scheduled to break ground in Union Park early next year, with completion targeted for 2011.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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