by Stephanie McLean
This past Friday, December 12th, marked a major milestone in Arena Stage's journey to the Mead Center for American Theater (named to Jaylee and the late Gilbert Mead) as Clark Construction hosted a "Topping Out Celebration" for Clark Concrete. In the construction world, topping out is a celebration that occurs when the last beam in placed at the top of the building or when a significant construction milestone occurs, such as reaching the highest point of the building or the completion of concrete work moving into steel work. Traditionally, the last girder (support beam) to be hoisted is painted white and signed by all the workmen involved. We honored that tradition last week as we all took turns signing the white beam with Sharpie markers before we entered the construction site.
Upon arriving at the construction site early to prepare for the event, I was given a yellow hard hat and a fluorescent yellow vest to wear. Every person on the site was wearing a vest or a hard hat of some kind. I noticed that many of the workers had personalized their hard hats with stickers, pictures or had their names emblazoned on it. As I walked through the concrete skeleton of The Mead Center, signs marked "reception window" and "box office" gave me an idea of what would soon become the stage door entry way of our new home.
As I entered the Kreeger through a plastic curtain, I was unsure of what to expect in the unfinished theater.
To my surprise I entered a warm, but still mostly gutted, theater being heated by noisy propane heaters. I looked up on stage to see a bright red curtain hung on a pipe like a theater drop and a small decorated Christmas tree beaming in all its glory. Clark Construction had gone all out for this event! Two screens on either side of the stage presented slide shows with pictures of construction workers and the progress on the project. I reflected on the magic that had taken place on the Kreeger stage just a little over a year ago when I saw The Women of Brewster Place.
Despite the hole in the ceiling that was dripping with yesterday's rain, many tables were set up and covered in blue and white table cloths in anticipation of a great feast. As construction workers put down their tools to take a break from a hard day of labor, they lined up for a buffet style lunch in the back of the theater. Workers, executives and Arena Stage trustees sat side by side for lunch as speakers from Clark Construction and Clark Concrete thanked the theater full of hundreds of hard working men and women who had dedicated many of their weekends to keeping the construction project "on schedule and on budget." The speeches were presented in English and translated into Spanish so that all of the workers could hear the words of praise. A Crystal Award celebrating the completion of concrete work on the building was presented. Guy Bergquist, Arena Stage Interim Managing Director and Facility Project Director, spoke highly of his colleagues as he congratulated everyone on the progress of the building. Artistic Director Molly Smith sang the praises of the many people involved in the creation of The Mead Center. She proudly introduced Mayor Adrian Fenty as he made his way to the stage through the thick crowd of construction workers. He gave a few short words of encouragement and publically acknowledged the District of Columbia's support of Arena. As he was leaving the site, he stopped to shake hands and take pictures with many construction workers, who had their cell phone cameras ready!
It was so inspirational to see the community of workers, city officials, and members of the Arena Stage family come together in celebration of what will soon be our newly renovated home. It reminds me of why I work so hard every day along side some of the most wonderful people I've ever known. Even though the theater is unfinished, it still feels like the Arena we all know and love.
The building project is on schedule as we patiently await the completion of Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater in 2010. To stay up to date on the progress of this project, go HERE.