In 1988, Normal Hall was modestly altered to become the site of the 100-seat theater for the Chautauqua Theater Company and its conservatory training program. This wood frame landmark building, the oldest on campus, is located in a landmark district, close to the Chautauqua village center and adjacent to the opera house and a residential area.
Renamed the Bratton Theater in 2000, a new stage house was added, doubling the size of the existing building. New audience seating was built for 270 people. A new lobby extension was added, as was a new dressing room wing. New rigging, stage lighting and theater sound systems were added. New facilities and features include dressing rooms, accessibility to backstage and front-of-house areas, and handsome architectural detailing sympathetic to the simplicity and style of the original building. Handicapped accessibility was provided to all public areas, stage and backstage areas. Preserving the identity of the old Normal Hall while vastly expanding the size of the building was one of the design challenges. The building presents a larger scale public face to the main street and a smaller scale face to its residential neighbors.
Site improvements included expanding the walkways and stairs to accommodate the larger audiences attending performances. A new kiosk provides box office and concession services to the theater and adjacent opera house. Site conditions, noise considerations and concern for preserving the finely textured wood interior required special attention to placing mechanical equipment. Newly installed air conditioning is invisible from within the historic structure. Refrigeration equipment providing chilled water to the theater is located off-site to isolate machine noise from the theater and the residential neighborhood. Air handling equipment was located within a new cellar space below the stage, isolating mechanical noise from the auditorium and stage. Air is distributed to the audience from below the seats so there’s no visible duct work.
Special regulatory variances were obtained to allow the building’s wood construction to be maintained and expanded for the new theater. Emergency systems including smoke purge, emergency lighting and power, sprinklers, standpipes, fire detection and alarm systems were incorporated. Building systems allow shut-down at the end of the season in accordance with the Institution’s summer-only needs, so winter heating is not required. Design of the mechanical systems is in step with the architectural objectives to preserve the form, texture and appearance of the existing historic building.
Since its construction, the Bratton Theater has been distinguished as recipient of:
The Design Award for Historic Preservation/ Adaptive Re-use from the AIA New York Chapter, 2001.
Design Award for Restoration from the AIA Buffalo Chapter, 2001.
Honor Award from the United States Institute of Theater Technology, 2001.