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Upgrades to the Katharyn Alvord Gerlich Theater

April 28, 2021

It’s officially spring, and as the days grow longer, we’re excited to think that we’ll actually be back in the Katharyn Alvord Gerlich Theater for the 2021–22 Season!

We know you’ve missed the Meany stage, but now in addition to anticipating a return to live performance, we have even more to look forward to: over the next year, the theater will be undergoing some significant upgrades, thanks to the advocacy of Bob Stacey, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and Divisional Dean of the Arts Catherine Cole. Some of them might even be in place by the time we open our season in October.

Those of you who have attended piano and chamber music concerts over the years will be excited to learn we will soon have a new orchestra shell! Our old one predated the founding of the UW Word Series — it was first installed in 1974 with an expected life span of 20 years. Forty-seven years later, it will finally go to its well-deserved rest. 

The new one is modular, making it easier to disassemble and store. It includes a roll-down screen that can be lowered and raised during performances and LED lighting which contributes both to significant energy savings, plus the ability to add color and other theatrical elements when appropriate. 

This new shell will save Meany Center time and money and provide greater flexibility in the kinds of multimedia performances 21st century artists are interested in presenting. 

Less immediately obvious to the eye (though not the ear!) are the new speakers we’ll install in the theater to replace ones we’ve had since 1988, and which we bought second-hand to begin with. They were literally built in a garage from kits comprised of several different components before being sold to us. After 30 years, our “Frankenstein” speakers were beginning to crackle and pop — and even occasionally transmit AM radio signals!

Fortunately, our stage crew are magicians when it comes to keeping old equipment up and running — but even they were unable to correct some basic issues characteristic of sound systems of the late 1980s and early ’90s. Our old speakers were “one size fits all,” meaning we could not modulate the volume to adjust for different parts of the house. Audiences seated in the front center rows were often blasted by sound while those in other parts of the house received a lower volume.

Our new system will not only be custom-built for our theater, allowing us to adjust for equal amounts of volume throughout the house, it also allows for greater frequency differences, maintaining a pleasing balance of bass and treble. We hope to have the new speakers in place in time for next season’s opening.

This major equipment upgrade will significantly contribute to our audience’s enjoyment and our artists’ ability to perform at their highest levels. This is true not only for the visiting artists that come to Meany Center, but also for the students and faculty in our Schools of Music and Drama, Digital Arts & Experimental Media and the Department of Dance.

We are so grateful to the college and particularly to Dean Stacey and Dean Cole for making sure that the Katharyn Alvord Gerlich Theater is one that a top R1 university like ours can be proud of.