Article originally appeared HERE
By: Ethan Duran//May 24, 2024

Hunzinger Construction is a week away from starting demolition services for the $78 million renovation of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, which will upgrade accessibility and theatrical purposes at the downtown Milwaukee complex.

Construction will be delivered in three phases, including an overhaul of the Powerhouse Theater and Studio Theater, a larger lobby, a dedicated space for students, a new donor lounge and more, said Melissa Vartanian, the Milwaukee Rep’s managing director. While crews work on the Powerhouse Theater first, other parts of the complex will continue to host performances.

The project is $1.8 million away from its $78 million goal, Vartanian noted. “It’s been remarkable and not many nonprofit projects we know of are at the same place when they’re breaking ground,” she added.

The renovation is funded entirely by private donors, kicked off by an Associated Bank sponsorship nearly two years ago. The new theater complex will be named the Associated Bank Theater Center.

Hunzinger Construction will work with architect EUA and theater consultant Fisher Dachs Associates to help deliver a state-of-the-art theater experience.

Crews will convert the Ellen and Joe Checota Powerhouse Theater to a flexible space and give it the option to switch between a proscenium theater, a straight line between the actors and patrons, and a thrust theater, where the stage is extended into the audience, project officials said.

Crews will also raise the 18-foot stage ceiling and install a fly loft, which includes motorized lines for moving equipment for certain performances. It’s all part of the theater’s update to modern standards, officials added.

“We have a robust new play development program,” Vartanian said. “When we produce them in this theater space, we design it around what our theater’s shaped like. It makes it trickier to transfer it somewhere commercially and get investors involved. … This will allow us to be an enticing place,” she added.

Improved sight lines and accessibility are also a key goal for Hunzinger and the Milwaukee Rep, as the Powerhouse Theater will be equipped between 550 and 650 seats post renovation, and seating will depend on what theater configurations are chosen for a given night. The theater will install more comfortable seats and wheelchair accessible seats as well.

Like the flagship theater, the Herro-Franke Studio Theater will be converted to a transformable performance space as the theater will be able to reconfigure seating and spaces when renovations are complete. The studio theater will get more seating, an updated lobby, expanded restrooms, an acoustical barrier between the theater and lobby and a fully functioning bar.

The theater also has plans for performance and classroom spaces for 20,000 students attending in-school, after-school programs and community initiatives. With the new capacity, theater officials are already budgeting to increase its capacity for students, Vartanian said.

Additional changes come in the form of the open Sandra and William Haack Lobby, the Lubar Family Donor Lounge with a capacity for 125 and plans for new access and events space on the Riverwalk.

The new lobby will be “massive,” according to Vartanian, with a new floor built overhead and a bar with plumbing. Having the lobby split into two levels will require new duct work from Hunzinger’s contractors as well.

The outdoor patio near the Wells Street entrance will be enclosed in glass with a three-story elevator, giving guests another way to enter the complex. Part of the terracotta brick wall will be kept inside to the preserve historic space.

In addition to these changes, there will be more accessibility for guest spaces, backstage spaces and different production departments will be moved and transformed due to the project. With those changes are ADA accessible spaces; the first iteration of the Milwaukee Rep was built in 1987, before the Americans with Disabilities Act was established. Hunzinger will work to update the space.

“There are so many things that are going to be wonderful about this new building with amazing features for the patrons,” Vartanian said. “Accessibility, to be able to allow patrons to come in on the first floor and have the best seats in the house if they need them, and they need them with wheelchair access, they will have it,” she added.

Hunzinger will maximize its workforce participation where it can for suppliers, subcontractors and more across the board, construction company officials said.

Because the renovation takes place in a historic building, designers took a 3D scan of the entire space for its engineers, architects and rest of the design team to look at.

View a fly-through video of the future Milwaukee Rep.