It has been a long time coming, but on Saturday Mad Cow Theatre will finally open its new Church Street digs — above Five Guys Burgers, a block off Orange Avenue in downtown Orlando.
"You've probably heard us mention an opening date, then move the date, then more moving of dates," joked Mad Cow's audience-development director David Mink earlier this year. The complex, at 54 W. Church St., was originally scheduled to open in January but was delayed by the complexity of the theater's lease agreement, which involves the city of Orlando and the building's owners.
Mad Cow Theatre is the only full-time professional theater in downtown Orlando, and its deal with the city means it will stay put for at least 20 years.
The opening production is the Stephen Sondheim musical "Sunday in the Park With George," which runs through Oct. 28. Upcoming are such notable plays as "August: Osage County," "Dreamgirls" and "Death of a Salesman."
If you head to a show, here's what to expect:
The new location — a former Hooters restaurant — is 8,854 square feet, including the backstage areas. That's a big improvement over the 5,991 square feet of the previous location on Magnolia Avenue. Even so, storage of props and set pieces takes place at an off-property warehouse. And the company's offices also are elsewhere.
The theaters are slightly larger. The old Stage Left theater seated 100, while its new counterpart, The Harriett (named for philanthropist Harriett Lake), will seat 167. The Black Box Theatre seats about 60, a bit more than the old Stage Right. Stadium seating will help with sightlines.
The creative team is excited about The Harriett's larger stage — nearly twice the size of that in Stage Left. The theater's ceiling is higher, too, which means sets can be taller and better lighting effects can be achieved.
Steps have been taken to ensure the actors in The Harriett don't upstage the actors in the Black Box and vice versa. One of the endearingly irritating occurrences at Mad Cow's previous location was when during a quiet moment in one play, you could hear the other theater's play in progress.
At the Church Street venue, the walls have been designed to minimize sound transfer. More important, The Harriett and the Black Box don't share a common wall.
Comfort & convenience
Speaking of the quirks of Mad Cow's former home, it was well-known for its warm welcome — literally warm, bordering on downright hot some nights. Mad Cow was unable to adjust the centralized climate control in that rented space, meaning patrons' playbills often performed double duty as fans.
No such worry in the new facility, which has six heating/ventilating/air conditioning units in its system — all under Mad Cow's control.
The restrooms, another source of both amusement and annoyance at the old location, will also be run by Mad Cow. (I guess I'll never learn who ripped the soap dispenser off the men's room wall, or why it was never replaced.)
Ladies — because I've seen the lines and know these things matter — there will be six stalls available. For the record, gents, the men's room will have two urinals and two stalls.
You don't want to spend the intermission in line at the restroom because then you would miss the new wine bar and lobby area.
The wine bar is near the entrance, adjacent to the box office, much like the set-up on Magnolia Avenue. But here's something new: Executive Director Mitzi Maxwell says later this season cocktails will join the beer and wine selections on the drinks menu.
The modern lobby boasts huge windows looking over Church Street. But if you tire of watching the night life below, there are details inside to grab your attention.
The stylish counters, for resting your drinks and snacks, have interior lighting that makes them glow. They are complemented by sleek chrome and frosted-glass cocktail tables.
On the walls are familiar photos by Tom Hurst of past Mad Cow productions. Patrons will remember them from the old space — like old friends along for the ride. There's actress Peg O'Keef holding a copy of "Our Town," there's Michael Marinaccio brandishing an umbrella in "Mary's Wedding."
The prints are augmented by various monitors that will display additional digital photos, making the display less static.
Finally, in nod to the theater's moniker, be sure to check out the whimsical cowhide wall covering.
The most affordable parking will be at the Central Garage, 53 W. Central Ave., Orlando. Under a parking-validation system, Mad Cow patrons will be charged a discounted rate of $5-$8 to park there. It's a roughly a 10-minute walk along a lighted pathway to the theater from that garage.
A closer option — though more expensive — is the 55 West garage, accessible from Pine Street. From that garage, patrons can take an elevator to the second floor and cross the covered Church Street pedestrian bridge to get to the theater.
Maxwell also recommends Pine Street, right by the 7-Eleven, as the best spot to drop off passengers while the driver parks the car.
Although all area parking has spots for those with handicapped placards, the absolute closest is in the SunTrust Garage adjacent to the theater. The entrance is on South Street.
There are also surface lots, public parking under the Interstate 4 overpass and the option to use Church Street valet parking. In all, there are more than 3,000 parking spaces around the theater.
Nuts & bolts
Here's some great news on pricing. Tickets for shows in The Harriett start at $27 — which is $5 less than shows in Stage Left last season.
Finally, note showtimes differ for the theaters. Evening performances in The Harriett begin at 7:30; Sunday matinees are at 2:30. In the Black Box, evening shows are at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 3.
Leave yourself extra time, especially at first while you figure out which parking lot or garage suits you best. Unlike at the Magnolia Avenue complex, latecomers can be admitted to some shows here — that's because patrons don't have to cross the stage to reach their seats. But, be warned: Those who are tardy are seated only at the discretion of the management, and do you really want the whole audience (and possibly the actors) to turn and glare at you?
Best bet: Come early and enjoy that funky lobby. You'll be glad you did.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5038
"Sunday in the Park With George" opens The Harriett. The musical looks at art, creativity and life in a study of painter Georges Seurat. Tickets start at $27. The Black Box Theatre opens Oct. 26 with "The Road to Mecca," a play about the clash between small-minded fears and artistic freedom. Tickets start at $32. Call 407-297-8788 or go to madcowtheatre.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times