As he walked around the unfinished shell of the Lawrenceville Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, Aurora Theatre co-founder and producing artistic director Anthony Rodriguez’s mind drifted to the possibilities the facility could provide.
The center is effectively an expansion of the Aurora with the city of Lawrenceville having an agreement with the theater to manage it. The new facility will have a larger stage with an orchestra pit for productions, more rehearsal and backstage space and even an outdoor performance area and an art walk.
“The size of what we’ll be able to do with scenery that can be flown in and out and the capacity to have that orchestra pit and trap space, it’s just very different from what we’re capable of now,” Rodriguez said. “I mean, the musicals won’t necessarily change. It’s just the size of what we’ll be able to do will change.”
Officials from the Aurora Theatre and Carroll Daniel Construction took reporters on a tour of the still unfinished performing arts center this week, providing a glimpse at how far along construction is at the facility. Officials said the center is about 50% complete with a targeted completion date of around the end of May 2021.
The Aurora isn’t scheduling its first major event in the new facility until October, however, to allow time for possible construction overruns or issues that could arise that need to be addressed. They are planning to host some smaller events at the site before then, however, particularly after the outdoor performance plaza is completed around April.
“It’s incredibly exciting to see what is happening and what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Rodriguez said. “There are probably organizations across the country that may have been able to partner with a city and create one facility. The fact that we’re working on our second one with the city of Lawrenceville (the existing Aurora space next to the center was the first) and an expansion of this size is pretty incredible.”
One of the possibilities that the Aurora’s co-founder envisions for the theater, once the new center is finished, is the chance to do multiple productions at Christmastime. The Aurora will still have its existing stage in a renovated former church next to the center, and it will continue to stage its annual Christmas Canteen there even after the center opens.
That will leave the larger stage in the center available to lease out to larger traveling or seasonal productions, such as a Nutcracker production that can’t get into other nearby performance facilities because they are already booked, Rodriguez said.
“Our production model has got to change a little bit because of COVID,” he said. “The financial hole that COVID has put us in, we won’t be able to produce our way out, so we’re going to have to partner with more people — people that are willing to lease the space, maybe events that are willing to come in, things like that — so that we can increase that revenue instead of trying to (produce a way out).
“You know, with producing a show, the margins are very small so there’s just no way for us to come back from an event like this by trying to do as many events as possible. That just wouldn’t happen.”
Aurora Co-Founder Ann-Carol Pence added that the local theater group and the city wants to the center to also feel welcoming to traveling productions.
“The region needs a place where they feel like it’s their home instead of just a rental so we really want to be a community gathering space,” she said. “That’s kind of the model by which we’ve operated.”