Wednesday, January 3, 2018

‘Star’ dressing rooms to get spruced up at UIS’ Sangamon Auditorium

It has great acoustics and lighting, a good view of the stage from virtually all of its 2,005 seats, and performers like its intimate setting that puts them close to the audience. But there’s one thing that is not getting rave reviews at the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Sangamon Auditorium.

“Let’s just say when performers come in, nobody is saying, ‘Ooh, I love this dressing room,’” said UIS Director of Performing Arts Services Bryan Rives. “That’s a comment we’re not getting.”

The university is about to begin an anonymous donor-funded project to completely renovate the two “star” dressing rooms and an attached hallway associated with Sangamon Auditorium and the adjacent 350-seat Studio Theater. The work will begin in mid-January, and Rives said it’s expected to cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

 The auditorium and the two dressing rooms were brand new 37 years ago when they were first used by Hal Holbrook as he performed “Mark Twain Tonight” to a sell-out crowd.

“When you have a Tony Bennett, or a Jerry Seinfeld, or that caliber of a performer coming to town, they are only here for a few hours. They are seeing maybe their hotel room, their dressing room and the auditorium,” Rives said. “So we really wanted to make sure the dressing room experience was world class for those performers.”

Rives said the idea for the renovation project began during a recent backstage tour he gave to an area couple who have been ongoing supporters of the auditorium and its programs. Rives said the couple had an “emotional reaction” when they saw the condition of the dressing rooms and they worried that the spaces may be how star performers are viewing the Springfield community. They offered to donate enough money to make the two main dressing rooms the appropriate “star quality,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Stewart and Rives have been talking about upgrades to the Sangamon Auditorium lobby. There is no formal plan or cost estimate in place, but Rives said a lobby renovation is something the UIS leadership supports. “When you come to events at Sangamon Auditorium, we are painfully aware right now that the lobby space is just devoid of any sort of excitement or energy,”

The scheduled opening later this month of the campus’ new Student Union will mean many of the catered events and meetings now held in the Sangamon Auditorium Lobby can be moved to the new facility, freeing up the lobby to shine as a welcome area for the auditorium, Rives said.

According to the Sangamon Auditorium website, the venue welcomes more than 75,000 attendees at 150 annual events.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on January 3, 2018.

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