Michael Tait proposes ‘Mickey’s Black Box’

By on August 28, 2019

Planned 10,300-square-foot project could be used as a theater, entertainment venue, community center, meeting space and more.

If all goes as planned, Rock Lititz will be adding a new theater to its campus near Route 501 and Newport Road.

It won’t be a theater for rock stars and famous bands. It won’t be another huge black box rehearsal space where massive concerts are set up before bands and performers hit the road for world tours.

Instead, Mickey’s Black Box is envisioned to be a hub for the performing arts, both amateur and professional.

At the Aug. 21 meeting of the Warwick Township Supervisors, Michael Tait, founder of TAIT, which is located at the Rock Lititz campus, detailed the vision that he calls Mickey’s Black Box. Mickey is his nickname.

“The building will be a black box,” said Tait, adding that it would be a much smaller black box space than the towering rehearsal space next to Rock Lititz Hotel, which is 52,000 square feet and 100 feet tall.

Mickey’s Black Box will be just 35 feet tall, with seating for 250 to 275 people. The 10,300-square-foot community theater space will fill a number of potential uses, such as theater, entertainment venue, special event space, community center, and meeting space.

“I want it to be iconic,” promised Tait. “It’s going to be interesting. You will be able to transform this space into anything you like.”

By comparison, the new theater would be slightly smaller than The Ephrata Performing Arts Center’s Sharadin Bigler Theatre, at 294 seats. The Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, meanwhile, has 684 seats.

The 10,300-square-foot Rock Lititz structure would use the so-called black-box concept, which entails plain black walls and a level floor.

Tait said it provides maximum flexibility in staging, lighting and seating: “It is the theatrical equivalent of a blank canvas, fully transformable, limited only by imagination.”
Rock Lititz General Manager Andrea Shirk said its decision to host the proposed theater, being developed by Tait independently, reflects Rock Lititz’s guiding principle of supporting and enhancing the community.

Might a famous performer who’s rehearsing at the business park’s Rock Lititz Studio for an upcoming tour decide to stop by Mickey’s to see a play, dance or concert?

That’s possible but unlikely, a Rock Lititz spokeswoman said. “Their time here is pretty intense and tightly booked,” she said.

Tait said the building also would be a place for non-profits to hold fund-raisers and for corporate and private events.

The community theater space is part of Rock Lititz’s updated Master Plan, which was also presented at the Aug. 21 meeting, as prepared by Derck & Edson. Supervisors were on board with the updated plan for Rock Lititz’s 96-acre campus. The planned construction includes four buildings, adding 285,000-square-feet of multi-tenant space, a 38,000-square-foot rehearsal studio and the

10,300 square-foot community theater.

Mickey’s Black Box, however, is an independent project headed by Tait, founder and former CEO of TAIT Towers. It was obvious that the theater space was his “baby.”

He admitted that he did not expect any personal financial gain from the theater. For him, it is a project close to his heart that is intended to serve the community, more specifically, local entertainers and performers who aren’t in the international limelight.

“Having spent the last 50 years in the live event rock and roll industry, I have been lucky enough to work with some of the biggest names in show biz,” he stated. “During that time, I noticed two things. One, that there are many talented performers who, for one reason or another, did not make the big time. And two, that promoters focused on pop music may overlook certain areas of the performing arts.”

Tait went on to say that limited audiences, venues that are too small or too big, and high costs, made it difficult for artists to find a suitable platform to exhibit and develop their passion.

“I believe that there is inherent value in creating an environment to encourage the new playwright and actor, choreographer and dancer, composer and musician, writer and poet,” said Tait, adding that for artists on the way up, the Black Box will be a place to practice and hone their craft.

He added, “And for those who wish to perform for the simple joy of it, the Black Box will be the perfect place to put on a show. For the community the Black Box will provide access to an exceptionally diverse range of artistic and cultural experiences.

The space is quite simply a black box, he explained, which is the theatrical equivalent of a blank canvas. It would be fully transformable and limited only by imagination. Seating and staging would be easily reconfigured to meet the vision of any artist or event designer. Control of the specially designed lighting and sound equipment would be mastered with just a few minutes of instruction.

Everything would be designed to keep the running expenses down so that it could be affordable to all.

Tait went on to add that ample parking and proximity to the Rock Lititz Hotel would make the venue the ideal location to host weddings, corporate events, fund-raisers, trade shows, art shows, and other community projects.

“I want to provide a space that recognizes and supports the arts at a community level, that connects artist and patron, and that elevates the presentation and exchange of ideas,” Tait said.

Mickey’s Black Box is being proposed to be located at one end of the parking lot near Pod 2 of Rock Lititz. There would be a portico to provide a covered walkway from the driveway. Access would be from Tollgate Road and Rock Lititz Boulevard.

It fits in with Rock Lititz’s overall master plan to expand the existing Rock Lititz campus.

Michael Tait, founder and former CEO of Tait Towers, plans to develop a community theater building at Rock Lititz.

“Our success in filling the existing 250,000-square-feet of tenant space at Pod 2 and subsequent interest by other live-event industry businesses indicates to us that there is a need and an opportunity to bring more talent, creativity, and technology to the Rock Lititz Community,” said Andrea Shirk, general manager.

Pod 2 opened in 2016 and now has almost 30 tenants. The planned Pod 1 and Pod 5 buildings will lease space to businesses from throughout the country that see the advantage to working in proximity to its rehearsing clients and other businesses that serve the same industry.

Studio 3 will join Studio 1, which opened in 2014 as a 52,000- square-foot rehearsal facility and was designed to accommodate the testing and rehearsing of concert tours destined for large-scale arenas and stadiums. The construction of Studio 3 will offer clients another large-scale rehearsal space with similar amenities as Studio 1, including dressing rooms, production office and catering facilities, plus sound containment technology to ensure compliance to existing sound ordinances. A 5,000- square-foot rehearsal space was added in Pod 2 in 2017 to serve artists who perform in smaller theater and club venues.

Pending land development approval, financing, and weather conditions, construction is targeted to begin in late 2019 or early 2020. The four buildings will be constructed concurrently, using local companies and skilled trades workers, many of whom were involved in the construction of the inaugural Studio 1 and Pod 2.
Construction manager is Ned Pelger of Pelger Engineering and Construction, and general trades contractor is Bottom Line Contracting, both of Lititz. Architect is Benjamin Asher Samberg of

Lancaster Architectural Works and interior designer is Stephanie Kicera Design.

Discussion of Mickey’s Black Box was part of a public hearing, seeking approval pertaining to theaters in the Campus Industrial zone.

There was also a public hearing to consider an amendment to the Warwick Township zoning ordinance revising the cluster development and open space provisions in the R-1 ad R-2 districts. The text amendment for cluster development provides for the preservation of environmental features on tracts, while also providing for flexibility in the housing types that are permitted.

In other business, supervisors approved a reduction of a letter of credit for Traditions of America Phases 1-4 and a reduction of a letter of credit for Lititz Reserve Phases 5 and 6.
Supervisors agreed to opt-out of the provision for video gaming terminals in the township.

Warwick Township road superintendent Jason Minnich reported that stormwater improvements and sinkhole repairs are underway in the township. Paving projects are finishing up, and stop bars and turn arrows are being applied to be finished prior to the start of the school year.

Duane Ober, administrator for the Warwick Emergency Services Commission (WESC) reported on fund drives for local fire companies, ambulances, and emergency services. He said that donations to the volunteer fire companies are far lower than needed to sustain these organizations. It is hoped that businesses and residents will step up their contributions to keep the volunteer organizations viable and able to meet community needs.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com. 

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