Achieve Form And Function

Since their storied beginnings as places where ancient Greeks enjoyed theater and Romans cheered gladiators in combat, amphitheaters have come a long way. Technological advancements now enhance sound quality, lighting, facility design, seating, and every aspect of the performance. More than 100 of these open-air venues are currently operating throughout the U.S., creating distinctive gathering places for communities.


One of the challenges amphitheaters face is balancing form with function. Natural land formations create spectacular views at Red Rocks in Golden, Colo., and the Gorge in Quincy, Wash., but those postcard-worthy vistas are the exception to the rule. For most

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in Texas is known for its dazzling use of light to accompany performances. Photo By Ted Washington

venues, enhancing the appearance of the facility, while providing attendees with a terrific entertainment experience, is a result of planning, problem-solving, and creativity. Here is how three diverse amphitheaters have beautified their facilities:

Striking Structural Design
Residents of the Washington, D.C., metro area may go to the FileneCenter at the WolfTrapNational Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Va., for world-class concerts. However, the facility itself was designed to be a work of art. The roof over the primary seating area has a dramatic configuration of folded planes and structural elements that enhance the acoustic and visual experience of the performances.

Inside, the extensive use of natural Douglas fir is a striking feature of the facility, used in the dramatically vaulted ceiling area and throughout the space. The natural park setting is visible through open fins on the north and south sides of the building. Views are also spectacular from the lawn, where the interior design beautifully frames performances on the stage.

First opened in 1971, the venue was reconstructed after a fire in 1982.Today, the amphitheater can seat up to 7,000 guests. Fixed seats in the interior accommodate 3,800 people, while other guests can spread out on blankets in the lawn area.

“As America’s only national park for the performing arts, we are unique for a number of reasons,” says Ann McKee, Senior Vice President, Performing Arts & Education for the Wolf Trap Foundation. “Capacity crowds flock to the FileneCenter for its incredible appearance, wide variety of programs, and artistic offerings, including the highly anticipated summer season and our in-depth arts and education programs.”

Two years ago, a devastating hail storm damaged the copper roof. Administration decided to use the repair work as the opportunity to make slight modifications. One-hundred percent of the copper

Day or night, the Filene Center in Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Va. uses dramatic structural elements to enhance the acoustic and visual experience of the performances. Photo By Nathan Adams

previously used on the roof was recycled, and the new roof was made from efficient materials comprised of 85- to 90-percent recycled content, complete with a 100-year service life with minimal maintenance.

The new roof has only enhanced the amphitheater’s beauty. As Chris Eckert, Senior Director of Operations for Wolf Trap Foundation, explains, “[T]he first thing you see … is the distinctive roof line, and we wanted to keep that architectural element intact.”

Creative Landscape Solutions
Keeping its downtown area vital is a top priority for officials of Carrollton, Ga., a charming Southern town of 25,000 near the Georgia-Alabama border. When an old warehouse located in the heart of the city could not be renovated, the officials elected to transform the space into an amphitheater to further enhance cultural options. The result is The AMP at Adamson Square.

The venue seats up to 1,000 people comfortably, providing open-air shelter from the elements. Tens of thousands of people have visited the venue since it first opened on May 1, 2012. City planners recognized that the roster of free musical performances, family movie nights, and arts events would draw overflow crowds to the area. However, they did not want to sacrifice the aesthetic appeal of the space with rows of concrete or metal seating. Instead, the city opted to install tiered rows of synthetic turf that made the space appear more natural and green without the need for sunlight or intensive maintenance.

“There is no way regular grass could [grow] in that covered space,” explains Phoebe Ericson, Director of Carrollton Main Street, the downtown economic-development organization responsible for The AMP and other local enterprises. “Now it always looks green and beautiful, with flowers adding additional color along the sidelines, and the community loves it.”

In 2013, the facility has added more events to its roster and expects to draw even more people in from neighboring communities.

Light The Night
Surrounded by lush forests, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion is an outdoor amphitheater that provides the Greater Houston region with an array of performing arts and contemporary entertainment. Since its debut in 1990, the venue has hosted 1,458 shows featuring a total attendance of more than 9 million people. However, big-name acts like Dave Matthews, Kenny Chesney, and Kanye West aren’t the only draws. Audiences enjoy the beautiful space and its creative use of lighting during shows.

Following devastation from Hurricane Ike in September 2008, The Pavilion underwent a $9.5-million renovation and expansion, which included construction of approximately 2,000 new reserved seats and a larger canopy structure to cover all reserved seating. The new covered seating area now consists of 6,347 seats. Lawn capacity has remained the same at 9,668 for a total capacity of 16,015, plus an additional 252 box seats. No matter where one sits, though, the show looks and sounds great.

From the crescendos of the Houston Symphony to Taylor Swift performing her latest breakup ballad, the venue’s extensive use of lighting creates an unforgettable ambience. Dramatic streaks of blue, purple, red, and orange light blanket the performances. During key moments, lighting technicians mix the colors in spectacular combinations that light up the crowds as well as the night. Many local residents consider the lighting to be the venue’s most memorable feature.

Give Your Amphitheater A Makeover

Are you looking for ways to beautify an amphitheater? Here are a few tips:

Benchmark. Research best practices at other amphitheaters nationwide that feature similar offerings. For example, if a venue operates in a dry, hot climate beset by drought, see how other venues select low-maintenance or water-saving landscape options that maintain an attractive appearance. Contact your counterparts for “how-to” advice, and offer to return the favor anytime.

Build support. Are you convinced that an expensive design renovation will take a facility to the next level? Reach out to volunteers and donors upfront to generate buy-in and ownership for the project. They can help raise funds and make the project a reality.

Investigate simple solutions. Sometimes smaller changes can make a big difference, such as good lighting to make any performance and venue more memorable. Evaluate the structure and technology to determine enhancements that can be upgraded without a high level of difficulty or cost.