The Village of Kohler and the Kohler School District have agreed to contribute $1 million each toward a major renovation of Kohler Memorial Theatre. The remaining cost of the more than $5.3 million project will be funded by Kohler Co.
The process began nearly two years ago when the Kohler family expressed a desire to upgrade the facility to address limitations on performance opportunities currently faced by the Distinguished Guests Series, as well as school activities and other events that take place there.
The desire for a community theater in Kohler was initiated by Walter J. Kohler, Sr. (1875-1940). He created a Memorial Hall fund to be used for construction of a community theater or auditorium within 10 years of his death. The project was put on hold for a decade due to building restrictions as a result of WWII, the Korean War, and post-war conditions. By 1953, the project was ready to move forward. The Memorial Hall fund trustees were also interested in an auditorium/gymnasium type facility, and the Village and school district were also looking to add a swimming pool and school building addition. Thus, construction of Memorial Theatre, the Village gymnasium, swimming pool, and school building addition were all completed as one project.
In 1953, an agreement called the “Pink Agreement” was drafted by all parties involved, laying out how the facilities would be used and maintained. Memorial Theatre would be turned over to the Village, which would be responsible for management and maintenance. The school district was given first priority in using the facilities for “instructional, cultural, recreational and athletic purposes” during regular school hours and for after-school activities. During non-school hours, Memorial Theatre, the pool, and village gymnasium were to be available for community gatherings and events. The school district agreed to pay for some of the expenses of staffing and maintaining the swimming pool in exchange for its free use of the pool and Memorial Theatre. The Village was also allowed to charge admission and rental fees to help cover expenses.
At a September 10, 2018 special Village Board meeting, Jay Hoekstra and Kristin Dedering, representing Koher Co., presented the new theater design proposal. Hoekstra stated that updating and modernizing the theater would benefit Village tax payers by offering an enhanced and more comfortable experience for guests and performers, while also providing opportunities to Kohler Schools students to learn about operating theatrical production equipment. The upgrade would also provide the potential to attract a greater range of professional performances, and would allow for orchestra and stage acts to perform within the theater together. Currently, the school orchestra performs in a separate room during plays, with the music transmitted into the theater through the sound system. This prevents audience members from having the opportunity to watch the orchestra.
The project scope includes increasing theater seat sizes (from 18 inches to 19.5 inches) and row widths; providing accessible seating options for people with disabilities; enlarging the proscenium arch size for increased audience viewing and diversity of talent; adding a thrust stage that allows for multiple performance options, including an orchestra pit or extra seating; creating new public restrooms with a building addition; enlarging the existing lobby; providing dedicated will call and concession spaces within the lobby; and updating technical equipment, including lighting and sound.
The proposed project will add a manual thrust stage that would sit in front of the current stage, and can be utilized at stage height, seating level or orchestra pit height using different length legs. The ceiling will be modified toward the front of the theater to add new, safer catwalks and lighting locations, while maintaining the quality of sound. The existing restrooms and moveable seat storage in the lobby area will be moved out to open up the space, as well as opening the staircases to the balcony to allow more natural light in. A small building addition will be added on the southwest corner of the theater for the new restrooms, and 340 square feet of the Youth Center will also be used for the new restrooms. This will offer more stalls in both the men’s and women’s bathrooms, alleviating long wait times with lines of guests that sometime extend into the lobby during intermissions. A family bathroom would also be added.
Additional project enhancements include refreshed theater and lobby interior finishes, new theater house lighting, improved balcony staircase lighting and interior finishes, upgraded audio/visual infrastructure, upgraded electrical circuits and wiring, improved HVAC ducting and diffusers, upgraded stage rigging, and new curtains.
The opportunity also exists to update the girls’/visitors’ locker room, and any additional work can be added to the scope of the proposed project as addenda to be considered separately. There was also some discussion about creating a green room for performers.
Construction is planned to begin mid-March of 2019 and be completed by mid-October.