“It’s an advanced screening like they have at Frontier City,” said John Semtner, architect and principal with FSB. “They can do 2,000 people an hour with no more waving a wand on everyone who walks through the door.”
The multi-year renovation of the Civic Center — which started in December 1998 and was finished in September 2001 — was part of the original MAPs and originally was supposed to include the Freede Little Theatre. It wasn’t included on future MAPS ballots, and no funding became available before the 2017 bond.
“The MAPS 1 budget for the project in total ran over, so that particular scope of the project had to be cut, which was really disheartening, I think, to all back then,” Gray said. “So, it’s finally happening, which we’re super proud of because we always wanted to make that happen just to honor … the historical nature of the theater but also the promises made back in the day.”
Originally known as the Little Theatre, the theater housed the production facilities for Oklahoma’s first television station, WKY-TV, back in the 1940s. It was renamed in the 1990s in honor of donor Jose Freede, who died earlier this month at age 93 and won’t get to see it finally renovated, which Gray called “a very unfortunate sequence of timing.”
“We’re going to keep the acoustical integrity of the theater as much as possible because that’s actually one thing that is designed really well currently. But it needs all new seating, it needs a different seating layout, it needs alterations made to the stage and the proscenium, the fly system, the electrical conduit, the electrical wiring, the lighting, the structure of it. You name it, it’s all pretty outdated,” Gray said.
A two-story expansion facing Couch Drive will provide the Freede Little Theatre its own independent entrance, a new box office and additional dressing rooms.
“We are recapturing the balcony seating, which is going to be really exciting. As long as I can remember — I think at least for the past 20, 30 years — the balcony has not been sat,” Gray said.