Cowles auditorium construction wraps up

by Cambria Pilger | Staff Writer

As of last month, the main construction on Cowles Auditorium wrapped up. 

The construction began in May 2019, but the project has been under consideration since April 2015, technical director and auditorium facility events manager, Maria Sorce said.

The project involved “[rebuilding] the structure of the main stage to hang a rigging system off of it,” project manager, Fred Johnston said. 

Rigging is the structure that hangs above the stage and holds the curtains, lights and scenery.

In 2015, Johnston and Sorce planned to replace the 1956 hand-crank system with a modern, motorized rigging system, Johnston said. At that time they found that the original structure of the building could not support the requirements of a modern rigging system.

Through construction, there is a new rigging system, a scene shop with an outdoor ramp and two extra floors that house the costume shop and a lighting and sound lab. Stage Two was remodelled, and Sorce started an entertainment rigging course where students learn the math and science behind rigging. On One Pine Day, the theater department received 14 new sewing machines that are now a part of the costume shop.

On April 16 from 3-6 p.m., there will be a “grand reopening” event at Cowles auditorium. The event is open to everyone, and visitors will get to walk through and see all of the new spaces. The event is being put on in collaboration with the music and art departments.

Sorce said the best part of the construction is “[having] a fully functioning theater.” With the new rigging, it is easier to fly things, move curtains and move lights, she said. The improvements also help each group that performs in the auditorium to be more flexible and to have a better performance space, she said.

“I think [this renovation] just makes it easier for people outside of theater to be involved,” senior Camille André said.

Kim Dawson, program assistant for the theater department, said there is a new electric projector screen that can be used for presentations, whereas the old one had to be manually lowered with a rope.

“Having the washer and dryer in the same space as the costume shop is amazing,” Dawson said. Since the costumes, laundry machines and sewing materials are in the same space, students working in the costume shop won’t have to travel as far.

The previous McDonald’s Scholar costume assistant, André, had to bring the clothes to Tacoma Hall to clean them after every show.

“I would be down [there] from, like, 10 p.m. to 12:30 in the morning,” André said.

Integrus Architecture was the design team for the project, with Walker Construction completing the work as the general contractor (as part of a bundled agreement to renovate both the Aquatic Center and Cowles Auditorium), Johnston said.

Johnston said there may be more adjustments in the future, such as cosmetic improvements in Stage Two and replacement of the wood floor of the main stage.