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Live Active Cultures

Seth Kubersky gets a sneak peek at the Abbey, the city's newest community theater space

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2011:03:22 14:06:52

"You got it?" shouts the burly construction worker, as he struggles to hold the massive metal lettering above his head. On the Pine Street sidewalk a story below, a handful of reporters hurriedly snap photos, then sigh in relief when, miraculously, the sign doesn't tumble over the wrought-iron railing and smash to pieces on the pavers outside the Sanctuary high-rise condominium building.

This may sound like a slightly inauspicious unveiling for the signature signage of downtown Orlando's most anticipated new performance venue. But on April 8, the Abbey Theatre and the Mezz, its sister "urban event space" on the second floor, will make their true debut at an official dedication party. There's still a lot of work to be done before then, but Ron Legler, president of the Florida Theatrical Association, one of the organizations behind the Abbey's existence, took time out of his busy schedule last week to take a few Orlando arts observers on an exclusive tour of the nearly completed stage.

From the outside, the Abbey mixes modestly scaled theatrical traditions - a fluorescent backlit marquee, a pair of box-office windows - with neo-gothic touches like ecclesiastically 
styled window arches and wrought-iron railings that play on the complex's monastic nomenclature. Ironically, the building sits on the site of the 1926 Ohev Shalom temple, which was, until it was demolished in 2002, Orlando's oldest Jewish synagogue.

Inside, the Abbey looks more like a trendy nightspot than a below-market rental stage. The lobby is dominated by a sleek bartop, a seamless piece of poured resin lit with LEDs, and a stately black fireplace that will soon be filled with faux flames on a 47-inch plasma screen. Even the bathrooms are stylishly decked out with authentic New York City subway tile and black-on-black Marcel Wanders wallpaper. Legler told me that designer Ted Maines of interior design firm Stéted (and who also lives in the building's fifth-floor penthouse) is incorporating glass from the original synagogue sanctuary into the bar.

Adjustable fabric dividers separate the full-liquor cocktail area from the performance space proper. An adjoining "grotto" dug several feet below street level serves as an audience area for up to 175 (with room for an additional 100 above) seated in comfy lumbar-supporting chairs. At the opposite end of the room, a 30-by-20-foot elevated stage offers excellent sightlines all the way back to the bar, a reconfigurable velvet curtain system and an Actors Equity-quality dressing room with a shower and a washer and dryer. It's got everything a small performance company could ever want.

Audio experts EWA are installing a high-end sound system, and the lighting features cutting-edge color-changing LED moving fixtures. Dance groups should be delighted with the new L'Air cushioned "sprung" floor, a product developed in part by Walt Disney World. A green-screen-sporting TV studio, capable of live HD Internet streaming, is on site as well.

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