Within the next couple of years, Eastman students will see some major changes in one of their primary performance halls. The Eastman Theatre, Rochester’s premiere concert destination, will undergo a major stage renovation beginning this summer.

Changes to the stage include a new, custom-designed shell for improved acoustics, a sprung wooden floor designed to accommodate both dancers and musicians, an improved orchestra pit with new mechanics and hydraulics, new rigging and better stage lighting. The aims of the improvements are to make the stage easier to use and to serve the diverse demands that the are regularly place on the hall.

Eastman School of Music Director and Dean James Undercofler is looking forward to the upcoming renovations.

“We are extremely excited to move forward with the first phase of our renovation plans for Eastman Theatre — a completely renovated stage,” Undercofler said.

“The new stage is designed to complement the aesthetic treatment of the theater’s house, better serve the needs of the performers and simply function more efficiently and safely,” he added.

George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company and the Eastman School of Music, funded the original construction of the theater, which seats 3,094 people. Opened in 1922, the theater was a venue for silent films accompanied by orchestra before it became a major concert hall.

Today, the 80-year-old theater is the primary home of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Eastman’s performance ensembles. In addition, the theater is used by a number of touring artists and ensembles each year.

Despite its heavy use and the fact that the theater was not originally intended to provide the performance facilities of a major concert hall, the Eastman Theatre has only undergone one major renovation during its 80-year history, in 1971. The hall of the theater has been surprisingly well maintained.

As a result, all renovations will be historically sensitive with great care to the retention of the theater’s historic appearance. The renovations currently in the planning process are mostly geared toward updating the stage to accommodate the needs of the many groups that use the theater for rehearsals and performances. Undercofler feels that the renovations will make the stage more user-friendly to a larger variety of groups.

“Our ultimate goal is to make Eastman Theatre a better venue for concerts, opera and other artistic performances in Rochester, while enhancing the downtown experience and contributing to the exciting renaissance of the city’s East End,” Undercofler said.

The stage renovation is only considered “phase one” in a series of improvements that are planned for the Eastman Theatre. After much consideration, the renovation process was been split into phases for financial reasons — including the current state of the economy and the increasing need for financial aid among Eastman students.

“These are challenging economic times for everyone,” Undercofler said in a press release about the project. “We’ve carefully considered all of the school’s priorities and have decided the most prudent way to proceed. We remain committed to seeing a completely renovated Eastman Theatre, but are equally committed to being fiscally responsible throughout the process.”

The renovations will commence this summer. However, most of the work scheduled to take place in 2003 — which includes work on the rigging and construction of the new shell — will be done off-site. The more visible work to the stage will be done over the summer of 2004. The stage is expected to be completed and fully operational by Sept. 30, 2004.

The Rochester architectural firm of Macon, Chaintreuil, Jensen & Stark is the chief firm in charge of this project. This is the same firm that designed Eastman Place, as well as Strong Museum and many other prominent projects within the Greater Rochester area.

The projected cost is $4-5 million, which is being covered primarily by donations from corporations, foundations and individuals, as well as Eastman funds that have been designated specifically for this project.The renovations to the stage of the Eastman Theatre have been a long time coming for the performers who utilize it.

Those in charge of the project feel that once improvements are made, the stage will be able to accommodate many different performances, allowing the theater to truly live up to the words that George Eastman inscribed on the building’s faade in the ’20s, “for the enrichment of community life.”

Ristow can be reached at lristow@campustimes.org.

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