ROCHESTER, NY — The stage of the Eastman School of Music’s Eastman Theatre is about to get a dramatic “facelift” in the first phase of an historically-sensitive renovation to the magnificent theatre in downtown Rochester.
The renovation, based on a design by the Rochester architectural firm of Macon Chaintreuil Jensen & Stark, will result in a greatly improved stage that will enhance the experience — visually, acoustically, and practically — for performers and audiences alike. Once completed, the stage will include an elegant, new custom shell that will allow for more flexibility and improved acoustics; a new, sprung wooden floor that accommodates dance as well as music; a greatly improved orchestra pit, with all-new mechanics and hydraulics; new and sophisticated rigging; and dramatically improved stage lighting. The new stage is designed to complement the aesthetic treatment of the Theatre’s house, better serve the very real needs of performers, and simply function more efficiently and safely.
“We are extremely excited to move forward with this first phase of our renovation plans for Eastman Theatre,” said Eastman School Director and Dean James Undercofler. “Improving the stage is perhaps the most important aspect of our plan to make the Theatre an even better venue for concerts, opera, and other artistic performances in Rochester. ”
Opened in 1922, the 3,094-seat Eastman Theatre was built by Eastman Kodak Company founder George Eastman as a center for music, dance, and silent film with live orchestral and organ accompaniment — and “for the enrichment of community life” (which is inscribed on the Theatre’s façade). Its opulent architecture and décor reflect the taste and elegance of the 1920s. Today, the Theatre is used as the primary concert hall for the Eastman School’s acclaimed orchestras, wind ensembles, jazz ensembles, and chorale, and for fully staged operatic productions by the School’s opera department. In addition, it serves as the principal hall for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and as a venue for some of Rochester’s premier events, lectures, and performances.
“Everyone loves the Eastman Theatre,” said Undercofler. “Yet in its 81 years of constant use, it has undergone only one major renovation. Despite its beauty, it does not fully serve the numerous present-day needs of performers or patrons in the 21st century — nor does it allow for much flexibility in the type of programming it can host.”
Since the late 1990s, Undercofler and other School leaders have examined Eastman Theatre in light of the School’s — and the community’s — current and future needs, and the costs associated with any proposed changes. During this time, several options had been discussed and considered. The School has decided to proceed with renovating Eastman Theatre in separate phases, recognizing current economic conditions and Eastman students’ ever-growing need for financial aid.
“These are challenging economic times for everyone,” said Undercofler. “We’ve carefully considered all of the School’s priorities and have decided that this is 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.” Undercofler also emphasized that any renovations to Eastman Theatre are designed to be historically sensitive and will complement the grandeur of the Theatre as it is known and loved in the community.
Preliminary work on the stage — shell construction, certain aspects of the rigging — will begin this summer. However, this initial work can be done offsite and therefore will be “invisible” to concertgoers for the most part. The “visible” portion of the stage renovation is scheduled to occur during the summer of 2004, with the new stage to be completed and operational by September 30 of that year. Since Eastman Theatre will not be usable during construction, this schedule allows the project to be completed when Theatre use is at its lowest, with minimal disruption to concert life and events.
The cost of the stage renovation is estimated to range between $4-$5 million. It is being funded by individual, corporate and foundation donations, as well as Eastman School funds that have been allocated specifically to the Theatre project. Overall construction will be managed by Christa Construction, one of the most respected construction companies in the Rochester region. The School also has consulted with Fisher-Dachs Associates (www.fisherdachs.com), internationally recognized leaders in theater design and renovation, and Akustiks (www.akustiks.net), a Connecticut-based firm specializing in concert hall and theater acoustics.
Note to editors: A current photo of Eastman Theatre and the architect’s rendering of the renovated stage is available for downloading at www.rochester.edu/eastman/theatre