I have two separate relationships with the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts as it enters its third season. Both of which I am eagerly celebrating.
First, they’re a client; they turned to me to handle the transition and project management as they moved into this fabulous facility. That was a huge honor, but equally so, has been having the ability to enjoy this piece of architectural brilliance as a mere patron.
It was designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie and most people passing by the first time notice the 40,000 square feet of glass that makes up the Brandmeyer Great Hall. Few know, however, that in order to keep the acoustics pure, what you see is actually three buildings on three separate foundations so that no sound transfers between theatres on nights when there are events in both the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Theatre and the Helzberg Hall.
Wrapping up its second full year, The Kauffman Center has seen more than 900,000 people attend events for over 600 performances along with nearly 600 community or social events having been hosted. At the same time, 55,000 school children from 28 school districts had the opportunity to experience a student matinee at the Kauffman Center through the Open Doors program.
KCC: You were on board from the beginning of this adventure, what were your earliest thoughts when this was just a sketch on a napkin?
Chu: When you’ve seen one performing arts center, you’ve only seen one. We had completed a lot of research on performing arts centers, and visited many of them. So, we prepared for as much as we could in advance.
KCC: What surprises popped up along the way?
Chu: The most exciting surprise has been how the community has responded. From the first open house to the ongoing flow of school buses filled with children who attend our matinees, the community has really gotten behind the Kauffman Center.
KCC: What did you think would be easy that ended up being a challenge and how did you address it?
Chu: It’s like moving into a new house. Some things you can’t really anticipate until you live in it. A key challenge was getting people to their seats quickly. It took a little trial and error in our first year, but we addressed it with increased signage to get to the right doors, provided additional training, and relied on a remarkable group of volunteers who ushered and guided people through the building. We could not be as efficient and effective without our volunteers, and appreciate when people sign up to help us out.
KCC: What keeps you up at night?
Chu: Making sure that we provide extraordinary and diverse performing arts experiences and that as we grow, we continue to listen carefully to the community, who have been so supportive of the Kauffman Center. Once we opened, we listened after every event, to make sure we were relevant to the community.
The details are endless. I remember a very early meeting I had with Greg Davidson, the former Director of Facilities. He’d just left a meeting where he discovered one of those gotchas. They had designed an intricate system of cables and pulleys to clean the outside of the enormous glass wall, but at no time had any one addressed the same issue for the inside glass. How do you clean a solid glass wall that tilts away from bottom to top? The solution ended up being a man lift, but the floor wouldn’t support the weight load of the lift. This forced them to find a carbon fiber mat that could be rolled out on the floor to allow proper weight distribution for the lift.
One of the most fascinating things to me is how perfect acoustics are.
In an early tour before the grand opening a docent took me to the balcony of Helzberg Hall. I sat in a seat with her standing in front of me. While explaining the facility, she began to rotate quarter turns as she talked until her back was facing me, yet at no point was the sound of her voice any different!
“We strongly believe that at the Kauffman Center there is something for everyone, and we will continue to work toward providing enriching arts opportunities for audiences of all ages and tastes,” Chu says.
Nowhere has that been better evidenced than in the lineup they have chose the past two years. From Carol Burnett to Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, from The Kansas City Ballet to ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro and the very best of National Geographic.
Stay tuned for more previews and reviews on KCC as the Kauffman continues to host its many great performances as gifts to our fair city.