When I’m being swept away by a theatrical or musical production, I’m not in the habit of thinking much about the people behind the actual design and construction of its particular venue. But after spending a little time with Mark Daniels—the lead designer working alongside project architect Michael McAuliffe, AIA to create our new amphitheater at Rancho Mirage Community Park—I’ll never watch or hear a show on that stage the same way again.
Born in Bozeman, Montana in a military family that was constantly on the move, Mark, 29, says, “America was home.” After studying at the University of Hawaii and the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles (graduating with a professional degree in architecture), Mark came to the desert. “The majestic mountains, laidback atmosphere, and sense of community are major draws for me,” he says. He’s been here—and at the two-man McAuliffe & Co. Architects—for the last five years.
“As a small design firm, I’ve had the opportunity to work on the amphitheater from inception through construction,” says Mark. “Michael and I continuously bounce and test ideas off of each other. It’s a very collaborative and enjoyable office environment.”
Asked about interesting but little-known facts about the space’s creation, Mark notes that parametric design software was used to test and develop its acoustic design, thereby influencing the actual planning of the architectural form. “The shape of the amphitheater is designed to optimize acoustics from both environmental and experiential standpoints,” he says. “The angles of the wing buildings, curvature of the ceiling, finish materials, and levels of the terraced seating are designed to optimize the acoustics for performers and spectators. The siting of the amphitheater with the lower bowl recessed into the earth and heights of the upper terraces is designed to contain sound in the amphitheater and to minimize impact of adjacent residential neighborhoods.”
Mark went on to explain that three revolving pivot doors on each side of the stage are designed to provide maximum flexibility for varied performance types. When closed, the doors provide a defined stage. When open 90 degrees, they act as stage access wings for theatrical performances. The reverse sides of the pivot doors are treated with acoustic paneling for musicians to fine-tune acoustic bounce and reflections on stage.
This is Mark’s first performance venue, and he hopes to keep pushing the envelope further with future similar works. When I asked him what about the amphitheater makes him proudest, he confided it’s the fact that he and Michael were able to deliver a progressive piece of architecture very similar to their original concept. “The design feels integral to the site, slowly revealing its scale and grandeur as you approach and enter the amphitheater, and will be an asset to the community for years to come.”
And the man’s highest hopes for the space, its players, and audiences? “My goal is for it to be an intimate and inspiring space for performers and spectators to enjoy sharing what they love,” says Mark. “I hope upon each visit the experience is different, revealing a new feature or aspect of the design—whether it’s noticing a framed view of the mountains, discovering a unique design feature or detail, or finding a new favorite seat within the amphitheater.”
I, for one, can’t wait to discover with my own ears and eyes all that Mark promises. I’ll be able to do so when the amphitheater hosts a series of 10 free weekly concerts from mid-February through mid-April. Just some of the acts slated to perform include “David Green’s Broadway in the Park,” headliner Chad Hilligus (formerly of The Ten Tenors), and “Defying Gravity: The Music of Stephen Schwartz.” For the full run-down and more information, please visit RanchoMirageCA.gov. Additionally, every Rancho Mirage resident will receive a brochure about the concert series, and ads will appear in The Desert Sun. So keep an eye out!