Nobody ever has high expectations for a theater in a gym. When a 2012 flood destroyed the theater at the Baldwin School, the administration wanted to quickly adapt the underutilized Gray Gym as the home for their theater department. A creative and ambitious approach was called for to maintain Baldwin’s high standards of excellence while respecting the constraints of budget and schedule, as well as the size and character of the existing building.

We were challenged to fit a first class theater into the existing envelope of a 1960’s gymnasium. A new, more dramatic and welcoming entry was needed. The theater would have to be flexible enough to comfortably host a piano recital, dinner, school assembly, or a full musical with a large cast. Of course, the main hall had to include the full complement of technical equipment needed to support the goals of a teaching space.

The end result is a theater that appears to be simple but is highly complex. Integrated technology and furniture make the multipurpose performance hall capable of having many personalities. Motorized telescoping seating couples with portable risers and chairs ensure that the room always matches the mood. The theater accommodates at least 22 configurations for performances from 41 to 313 audience members. Acoustic draperies and portable acoustic towers adjust the reverberation time, while a fully configurable AV system in a new elevated control room allows the audio system to be tuned carefully. A flexible classroom in the lobby can be opened all the way to increase lobby area, acoustically separated, or blocked off entirely, as needed.

The approach included the preservation of the existing glu-lam structure. The re-use of the existing building, including a relatively new gym floor, dramatically lowered the carbon footprint of the construction and preserved the history of a well-loved building. High efficiency HVAC units automatically sense the occupancy of the space and adjust airflow to provide the correct fresh air for the size of crowd, and LED lighting throughout limits energy use.