The Eastman Theatre, opened in September 1922 and built by philanthropist George Eastman himself, has gone through several renovations in its lifetime. In 1923 and 1927, large annexes were added onto the theater and the adjacent Eastman School of Music building to provide practice rooms for students and large rooms for rehearsals and the storage of scenery and props.

The latest renovation to the theater, which began in October 2004, is scheduled to occur in three phases, the second of which has recently procured funding from New York State. The Eastman School of Music Board of Managers, along with UR Board of Trustees, unanimously approved the renovations.

“The University, the Eastman School and the community are deeply grateful for this financial commitment on the part of New York State toward the Eastman Theatre renovation,” President Joel Seligman said. “Thanks to their efforts…we are strengthening one of Rochester’s greatest cultural jewels for the 21st century.”

The first phase was a $5 million stage renovation to enhance performance in the theater. It included improved stage lighting, new mechanics and hydraulics for the orchestral pit, top-of-the-line rigging and backstage enhancements. Most visibly, a custom shell was added to enhance acoustics and also to complement the aesthetic treatments of the 1920s elegance of the theater. Construction of the renovation was completed in three months under the management of Christa Construction. Almost all of the work utilized Rochester vendors, just as Eastman had done when designing and building the original structure.

The second phase of the project, projected to cost $20 million, is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2008. Where the first phase was more performance-based in its enhancements to the theater, this second phase is much more geared toward the audience. Although the aisles will be widened to make the facility ADA accessible, the hall will be narrowed by the addition of box seating along the sides. This will have a negative effect on the amount of seating in the theater (2,250 seats as opposed to 3,094), however the acoustic effects should be more favorable to the audience.

“The impact of ‘narrowing’ the hall will be to create more reflected sound into the main orchestra seating area. The result will be a much more vibrant acoustical environment,” Interim Dean of the Eastman School of Music Jamal Rossi said.

This auditory effect will occur because the sound will have less distance to travel before it bounces off a wall for the audience to hear. In addition, new restrooms, a gift shop and a caf will be constructed.

The $20 million funding for this phase of renovations is to come from a few different sources. New York State has recently provided a grant of $8 million for the project. The University is working with state officials on the timing and procedures for the payments. The remaining $12 million is to come from a special University-wide campaign, according to the University’s Public Information Coordinator Sharon Dickman. It is currently too early to know specifics for the fundraising.

Construction on the second phase of renovations is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2008, once funds are raised and the architects and contractors are chosen. The early designs for the second-round renovations were drawn by Chaintreuil, Jensen, Stark Architects, a Rochester firm.

The third phase of this enormous project is mostly to benefit the students and professors of the Eastman School of Music. According to Dean Rossi, the major aspects include a widened atrium lobby that would benefit both Eastman Theatre and a new recital hall. This new hall will have seating for 200 people and will primarily serve solo and chamber music performances.

Currently, large ensembles and the student opera perform in Eastman Theatre, while smaller operas and ensembles, such as degree recitals, hold performances in Kilbourn Hall, the Howard Hanson Hall, other small halls around the School and even in nearby churches. The new recital hall will provide an extra space and ease scheduling conflicts among ensemble performances. Also, additional practice rooms, classrooms and both instructional and recording studios will be built. Neither a timeline nor a budget have been drawn up for this third phase.

Hughes is a member of the class of 2010.



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