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Renovations illuminating for Haas Fine Arts Center venues

| Gary Johnson

New state-of-the-art lighting and rigging equipment in three Haas Fine Arts Center performance venues will enhance audience experiences at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire concerts and theatrical productions and train Blugolds in the latest technologies.

The nearly $3 million project to upgrade Gantner Concert Hall, Phillips Recital Hall and Riverside Theatre was scheduled to be completed for the 2020-21 fall semester.

Gretchen Peters

Dr. Gretchen Peters, chair of music and theatre arts and professor of music history

“The three halls are beautiful and have served us well, but they are 50 years old and have been in need of major renovation,” says Dr. Gretchen Peters, professor of music history and chair of the music and theatre arts department.

Updated lighting will replace antiquated illumination at all three venues in the building that opened in 1970. Lighting improvements extend to the lobby to highlight an open and welcoming space. 

The new lighting systems will allow for more visibility and provide additional creative options for production personnel to support “the artistic visions of those performing,” says Erin Hisey, assistant professor of theatre.

Erin Hisey, assistant professor of theatre

Erin Hisey, assistant professor of theatre

“Lighting helps to create the intended mood and atmosphere of the performance and allows a deeper and more immersive audience experience,” Hisey says. “And, of course, being able to easily read the program will help keep the focus on the performers and not the playbill.”

Emma Blissitt, a UW-Eau Claire senior theatre major studying lighting design, is excited that the upgrades will allow for more creative lighting to better tell theatrical stories. Blissitt has had production roles as a carpenter, electrician, lighting programmer and lighting designer in a half-dozen UW-Eau Claire productions.

“With such outdated technology it was hard to work fluidly before running into a tech issue or a creative limit due to the outdated equipment,” Blissitt says. “With that said, the new tech coming in will be a welcome sign for lighting and tech students of all levels.

"Each new space will have a new limit of functional and creative possibilities. The creativity in lighting should help tell a story, and with the new updates, those stories can be full and bright.”

Gantner Concert Hall

Gantner Concert Hall is the largest on-campus performance venue, with seating for 600. It is used for student ensembles and festivals, in addition to guest artist and faculty recitals.

A new performance shell in Gantner is an important new visual and acoustic component that Peters says will provide multiple options for performances ranging from large ensembles to soloists.

“It will be visually very appealing, but it will also help with the acoustics,” Peters says.

James Zwicky

James Zwicky, associate professor of theatre arts

James Zwicky, associate professor of theatre arts, recalls lighting malfunctions during preparations for at least three productions. A dress rehearsal two days before the opening of the 2017 production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” took place in the Gantner lobby because the theater lighting system had failed. A Twin Cities technician made last-minute repairs the day before the musical production opened.

“After this renovation we won’t have to worry about the systems failing mid-show anymore,” Zwicky says.

Zwicky noted the Gantner improvements include several "quality of life" updates such as moving the organ console off the stage and repairing the pit lift so it doesn't rub on the stage and create noise during concerts.

Riverside Theatre

Riverside Theatre is a 200-seat venue for chamber and solo performances that was updated in the 1990s. The theater is used more heavily for theatrical productions than Gantner Hall and needed another update with modern lighting network infrastructure, Zwicky says.

The stage rigging is being replaced and updated in both Riverside and Gantner.

“The old 1970s winches and controls were at the end of their lives probably 20 years ago, so they will all be replaced,” Zwicky says.

Phillips Recital Hall

Philips Recital Hall is a 200-seat venue that is used extensively for faculty, guest and student recitals. In addition to new lighting, the hall’s new curtains and updated paint will provide a more usable and appealing venue.  

Top photo caption: Dustin Liebzeit, an employee of B&B Electric in Eau Claire, works on a catwalk in Haas Fine Arts Center’s Riverside Theatre. Riverside is among three venues in Haas Fine Arts Center that are undergoing a $3 million renovation project to update lighting and other equipment. (Photo credit: Bill Hoepner)