Eastern Oregon University > Academics > Performing arts building debuts with high-tech upgrades

Performing arts building debuts with high-tech upgrades

Lights, sound, action: EOU performing arts building debuts with high-tech upgrades

Project Supervisor Jon Fowler of Kirby Nagelhout Construction demonstrates the new seats in McKenzie Theatre for EOU Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Nate Lowe. 

LA GRANDE, Ore. – Stage, seats, lights, speakers, steps, screens and tech — no part of Eastern Oregon University’s performing arts spaces have been forgotten in a major renovation of Loso Hall. 

“This is an update to the performance venues that have largely been unchanged since the original construction over 30 years ago ,” said EOU Capital Projects Manager David Moore. 

The building houses the campus’ main performance venue, McKenzie Theatre, as well as the small Schwarz Theatre and accompanying facilities for make-up, rehearsal, costume design and set building. After nearly a year of work by Kirby Nagelhout Construction, Loso Hall is set to re-open in April. 

Attendees of choir concerts, community symphony shows, musicals, plays, speaking events, conferences, film festivals, graduations and other ceremonies will notice a few distinct upgrades. Blue seats and a gold curtain reflect EOU’s school colors, while a matte black masonite stage lies in wait to welcome performers back to the spotlight. 

Improved ADA access was a main component of the renovation. Additional spots for people who use wheelchairs, and a lift so they can access the second level. Contractors removed 80,000 pounds of concrete from McKenzie Theatre to eliminate steps and widen aisles. The design added no-step access to the stage in McKenzie Theatre, and leveled the floor in Schwarz Theatre. 

Schwarz also got a “black box” makeover with matte black treatment for the floor, ceiling and walls. The space now has movable chairs and risers that can be adjusted to suit each performance. 

The biggest news in the small theatre, though, is a built-in rotating stage. EOU is one of the only college campuses in the West to install this highly adaptable feature. Directors can set up multiple backgrounds and rotate them for easy scene transitions, or a musician could perform a solo while the stage slowly spins, or curators could set up visual artwork for display on the turntable. 

“This space is so flexible,” Moore said. “It can be used in endless ways to showcase EOU and community talent.”

Beyond surface gloss, the infrastructure of both spaces has been fundamentally transformed by more than four miles of new conduit that routes sound, video and electricity throughout each facility. Actors in the green room can watch a live feed of what’s happening on stage in either theatre. A new tech booth embedded in McKenzie theatre connects with controls backstage and above in the catwalk to control lights, sound and effects. All of those wires were carefully, invisibly tucked into the existing structure, along with energy-efficient upgrades to the heating and cooling systems. 

EOU music student Jacob Gau took a part-time job on the construction crew renovating performance spaces he’ll use for concerts and rehearsals soon. He installed the new masonite stage floor in McKenzie Theatre.

“We used to have two separate spaces, but now they are cohesive,” Moore said. “It’s possible to use Schwarz and McKenzie theatres simultaneously or in conjunction with each other. With the technology upgrades, Schwarz Theater can function as overflow for McKenzie during larger events.”

Backstage, decades-old rigging got a 21st century overhaul. Touchscreen controls, an automated fire safety mechanism, emergency rope stops, and seven engine-driven rigging sets will allow student stagehands to get a professional grade experience. Plus, a permanently mounted projector and screen connect with giant ray speakers to turn McKenzie Theatre into the county’s newest movie venue. 

“The rigging mechanisms and fire curtain automation really improve safety,” Moore said. “The touchscreen controls backstage, in the booth and on the catwalk allow students to experience the best of what the industry has to offer.”

Although COVID-19 restrictions will limit audience capacity in the near future, EOU students and faculty will have access to begin using their new state-of-the-art facility in spring term.