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State Theatre/Austin, TX

Austin American-Statesman (Texas)

February 28, 2011 Monday

Final Edition/METRO; Pg. B01

After renovations, State Theatre ready for SXSW film fest

By Jeanne Claire van Ryzin AMERICAN-STATESMAN ARTS WRITER

Nearly five years after a city water main break flooded the historic State Theatre, the Congress Avenue venue is ready for its close-up.

The 300-seat theater will serve as an official venue for the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival , starting March 11 , and will host public performances afterward, said Ken Stein , executive director of the Austin Theatre Alliance , the parent organization of the Paramount and State theaters.

"It’s now as functional as it was before the flood," Stein said Thursday.

Stein said the building’s complicated history – the 1935 Art Deco theater was built on top of a foundation meant to hold a never-built 12-story office tower – made the renovation slow-going.

"Everything we do gets complicated by the building’s historic nature," Stein said.

Earlier this month, comedian Christopher Titus performed at State Theatre, allowing Stein and other officials to see how ready the venue was for regular programming.

Stein said that performances at the State will be limited to those not requiring huge technical demands. Shows will include children’s programming, films, comedians, live music and smaller productions.

"The current repairs solved many problems, but ultimately a much bigger renovation will eventually be needed down the road," he said. Stein added that such a renovation would be considered in the future in conjunction with a wished-for renovation of the Paramount and after a major capital campaign that has not been scheduled.

In 2006, a municipal water main underneath the State broke, flooding the theater’s stage and basement and destroying equipment, several rows of seating, the dressing rooms and the stage itself. The Austin Theatre Alliance was forced to cancel shows and has since not been able to use the State for performances. Staff offices and classrooms on upper floors continued operations, but capacity in the building was capped at 50 people per city code.

"Having to limit the number of people in the building really limited what we could do with our educational programs," Stein said.

About $300,000 was spent on repairs and improvements, some because of the flood, others because of a need to meet current codes, Stein said. Repairs included cleaning and replacing seats, replacing and upgrading the sprinkler fire-suppressant system, improving emergency exits and lights, and rebuilding the stage and the sound booth. The theater’s neon marquee, which had coincidentally stopped working around the time of the flood, also got a much-needed face-lift. The lobby also was spruced up with new furnishings and fixtures.

Stein said there are still about $250,000 in repairs to be completed, including rebuilding the dressing rooms and backstage facilities, upgrading the heating and air-conditioning system and improving the sound system.

Stein noted that the goal is to have those issues resolved by this summer, when children’s programs are scheduled.

"We’ll be booking it lightly as we finish with final repairs," he said.

Built as a movie house in 1935, the State underwent a $3.5 million renovation in 1998 to accommodate full theatrical productions. Some $1.9 million of that project came from voter-approved city bond money left over from a 1985 bond package. As part of its agreement with the city, the State must be available for use by other arts groups about 25 percent of the time. The agreement with the city continues through 2018, Stein said.

In 2000, the Paramount merged with the State under the Austin Theatre Alliance umbrella, and the two theaters have been jointly managed since.

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