This upcoming summer, the first phase of renovations to the 81 year-old Eastman Theatre will commence. With the theatre having undergone only one other major renovation in its 81 years, Dean and Director James Undercofler thinks its time to upgrade it to the needs of the 21st century. They call the Eastman Theatre the “crown jewel” of Rochester. The first time I walked into the theater, my jaw dropped. I thought to myself, “For this school to have a theatre like this, it’s got to be good.” Similar thoughts run through prospective students’ minds each year, one of the ways in which Eastman draws in so many talented students. Although it is an incredible facility, the theatre isn’t meeting the needs of the performers and audiences of the newest era. The pit is small, crowded and not nearly as accessible as needed. The backstage area needs new rigging, lighting and a new shell. And it seems that it is hard for an audience to get the intimate musical experience that Kilbourn Hall provides. The idea to renovate the Eastman Theatre has been in planning for nearly 10 years. Several options were discussed pending on anticipated future needs of the school and the finances needed to go through with such a proposal. With today being a tough time economically, the renovations are being broken down into phases, which will allow the cost to be split up over time and give the school time to raise the money needed. Phases also allow for the planning to be done more thoroughly since it is a complicated process that involves architects, acoustic experts, finding the materials needed and tailoring it to the needs of musicians. Phase one will include the making and addition of a new shell, a sprung wood floor, improved stage lighting and a new pit. The shell is being fabricated at a location outside of the theatre and being moved in during the summer. The new shell is being designed to make the audience feel as if they are in the same room as the performers, instead of the distant feeling one gets sitting in the audience now. Raising the height, changing the angle and making the walls harder help achieve this. One concern that the students and faculty have is that the renovations will not be finished in time for concerts in the fall semester. “It depends on money” Eastman Director of Facilities Lou Wiesner, assures that it will be done on schedule.There is no timeline for the other phases. Martial Bednar, director of media relations, said. Currently, the development office of Eastman, a department of the school that isn’t recognized nearly as often as it deserves, is working hard on finding the funding for the theater to be completed. Student aid and scholarship money is still a priority, and the renovations will not take away from that money. Though programming is key, Bednar seems confident that improvements to the theatre will help attract audiences to the live performances at Eastman. The renovations are also in sync with the plan to revive downtown Rochester. In fact, the coming downtown Performing Arts Center and other downtown renovations helped to push the Eastman administration to examine of the usefulness of the Eastman Theatre. Hopefully, all these renovations will make Rochester a more attractive city for visitors, which will be important with the coming of the new Fast Ferry to and from Toronto, and will help stimulate the economy. As for the future of Eastman, Wiesner said that they are “taking little steps. It’s impossible to do it all.” He has been working diligently to clean up the annex and improve the buildings in any way possible. Small steps are being made to paint the walls, fix doors and add security around the school. Next summer, new elevators will be installed in the annex. Wiesner said that it’s an exciting time to be at Eastman – “We’re getting things done.”Reguero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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