Thanks in part to a year without in-person performances, Marcus Performing Arts Center, 929 N. Water St., was able to complete a renovation of its main venue, Uihlein Hall, in time for its public reopening on May 7.
Among the updates is the improvement of the complex's HVAC system, which circulates outside air into the building every 17 to 20 minutes and adds a needlepoint bipolar ionization filtration system as an enhancement.
Needlepoint bipolar ionization is being used by a growing number of businesses since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic to help remove particles from the air.
Marcus Performing Arts Center has also added ticketless entry, more hand sanitizing stations, social distancing floor markings and signage, and has reduced capacity limits to meet city guidelines.
But the most fundamental and enduring change that patrons will see are the new seats and ADA accessibility enhancements.
While it is one of the best-sounding concert rooms in the city, Uihlein Hall has had the less enticing "continental" style seating rows, which only had aisles along the outside wall.
That meant very long rows of seats, an arrangement that could be disruptive when guests needed to get up during performances.
But now, the new seats have been installed in a three-section configuration with two more aisles added, making accessing seats much easier for everyone. It is a massive upgrade.
“As we realized the pandemic was going to last far longer than any of us could have initially anticipated, we recognized an opportunity to focus on making important improvements to our space while the venue was closed,” said Marcus Center President and CEO Kendra Whitlock Ingram.
“After speaking with resident companies, including the Milwaukee Ballet and Florentine Opera, our top priority quickly became renovating the seats in Uihlein Hall.”
The cost of all this work was $4 million, funded via donations, including a $1 million gift from Donna and Donald Baumgartner – who also helped make the Milwaukee Ballet's new home possible – and a major gift from an anonymous donor. The work was also funded with a Herzfeld Foundation grant.
“The continued support and generosity of donors made it possible not only for our company to make it through a tumultuous year, but also gives us the opportunity to return to live performances in an improved theater that will offer a world-class patron experience,” said Florentine Opera General Director and CEO Maggey Oplinger.
“Our artists are thrilled to be among the first to perform in this beautiful space as we begin bringing live musical performances back to the Milwaukee arts community.”
The Florentine Opera will present the Baumgartner Studio Artist Showcase with Kurt Weill's "Little Mahagonny" on May 7 at 7:30 p.m. in Uihlein Hall. Attendees will be the first to try out the new seats.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.