Arts & Culture » Live Active Cultures

Steinmetz Hall is slowly but surely taking shape at the Dr. Phillips Center

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In Disney theme park parlance, "Phase 2" refers to a major element of an ambitious overall project that is postponed from the original opening, but promised to appear at a later date. More often than not, such second acts are either significantly scaled back (see Sunset Boulevard at Hollywood Studios, which was supposed to include Dick Tracy and Roger Rabbit rides) or scrapped entirely, like Beastly Kingdom, Animal Kingdom's lost land. So when the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts first announced that Steinmetz Hall, the acoustical venue promised alongside the wired-for-sound Walt Disney Theater, would be pushed back until 2020, I was fearful that the performing arts center's lopsided facade would never be fully fleshed out.

Well, now that I've walked the construction site and seen firsthand the massive undertaking that's underway, I can say I've been converted from skeptic to believer. Last Friday morning, I was part of a small group of media led on a hard-hat construction tour of the concrete and scaffolding that will someday be one of the most acoustically perfect spaces on the planet.

Brett Gelbert, an onsite owner's representative for the Projects Group, brought us into the heart of the active worksite and face-to-face with the massive steel skeleton that will soon support the room's signature sound shell. This 700,000-pound structure will slide back and forth on railroad tracks, accompanied by proscenium towers that glide on hovercraft, to transform the "multi-form" theater for orchestra or opera.

Next, we looked down from a dizzying height into the basement – dubbed "the bathtub" by the construction team for the way it accumulates rainwater while the roof is still under construction – where massive motors will allow the floor to flip and pivot from flat dance floor into tiers of elevated seating, with the chairs stowing invisibly underneath. Finally, we climbed below the future stage to peek at the hidden secret that will make the room perfectly silent even if an amplified Broadway singer is belting next door: The entire structure sits on top of 437 rubber and steel isolation pads "that will tension the building to take out any tuning effect and keep out all outside vibrations," according to Gelbert, making it "a building within a building."

Our construction tour came at the climax of a morning of media previews for the Dr. Phillips Center's 2018-2019 season and beyond, which began with a preview of this year's holiday lineup, headlined by Irving Berlin's White Christmas and Jane Lynch's A Swinging Little Christmas. (Lynch will appear live; Berlin, being dead, will not.) CEO Kathy Ramsberger shared some positive statistics on the Center's financial performance – $200 million in local economic impact and a net profit of over $700,000 for the 2017/2018 season – along with a candid acknowledgment that their initial education offerings overlapped with other local programs. And in a few weeks, Dr. Phillips will begin an innovative clinic study conducted by Florida Hospital that seeks to quantify the benefits of acting classes for Level 4 Alzheimer's patients.

All that is great, but what you're really wondering is, "When and how can I get Hamilton tickets?" Subscription sales ended over a year ago, and while no single-seat sales date has been announced for the megahit's Orlando visit from Jan. 22 to Feb. 10, 2019, we've been promised one week's notice before the box office opens. In the meantime: Set up your drphillipscenter.org account with payment info in advance; make a list of your available dates; and be prepared to join the virtual waiting room 15 to 30 minutes before sales start. Don't try purchasing in person or over the phone; don't bother logging in at 3 a.m. (everyone queued before sales begin will have the same odds of random selection); and don't buy tickets currently listed by resellers – they're nothing but expensive IOUs. There won't be any discounts or group sales, and purchases will be limited to four per person, but the daily $10 Ham4Ham lottery should be available via luckyseat.com and the official Hamilton app.

While there's still a massive amount of work to be done in the 18-odd months before Steinmetz Hall's projected 2020 debut, witnessing the 250-plus crew members who are working daily to build it bolstered my faith in Gelbert's assurances that progress is on schedule. However, it's another project Ramsberger mentioned that really piques my interest: Rather than build the planned hotel and commercial building on Dr. Phillips' front lawn, they are working with landscape architects OJB to completely revisit their concept for the nine-acre plot with the intent of "giving it back to the community." It would be a perfect opportunity to build the accessible public performance space that Orlando's emerging artists so desperately need.