Next Great Stage Updates

Update 5/30: The Last One. Almost. 

This is nearly the last update on the Next Great Stage Project. You see, it’s pretty much finished. There still a few finishing touches to be done before we welcome the first audience on June 10. Pavers still need to be installed, some signage needs to go up, some lights need to be adjusted, a few other minor fixes. The grass is growing in, but still needs to reach its full height. And we’ll keep learning as we go through the season. But for now, the punch list is nearly punched. In fact, for the last few weeks, the buildings have all been in use by our company. The rehearsal halls are full, with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Flea in Her Ear and Cyrano de Bergerac all in rehearsal. The stage is also being used. Rehearsals are going on there, too, scenery is being installed (and then stored in the new, larger storage building), lights are being hung. Actors have been assigned to spaces in the newly renovated and expanded dressing rooms, and they have begun making themselves at home – moving in their make-up and family photos.

Eliot Garfield, our lighting supervisor, has a wide grin almost any time someone comes into his new office and work space for a tour. See, Eliot is tall – about 6’5”, and he couldn’t stand up in his former work area. Now there’s plenty of head room, and he’s thrilled. 

The lobby has been transformed, with new trees and flagstone and specially designed benches.

Fundraising continues, and we are so very close. The final price tag of the project will be about $8 million, a little over the original $7.7 million budget. But with the help of more than 1,000 donors, we’re going to be able to fully fund it. To date, we’ve raised nearly $7.9 million – $100,000 to go! Just a little more than 1%!

The one thing missing is you. Enjoying the lobby, sitting under the stars, watching the APT company bring classic stories to life. We can’t wait. 

P.S. Save the Date: Please join us for our Grand Opening Celebration on July 2 from 2-4 p.m. We’ll have self-guided tours, treats and the official dedication of the theater. Free and open to the public, no tickets required. 

Update 4/14: So Close, Yet So Far. YET SO CLOSE. 

Four weeks from now, rehearsal begins, which means that our new buildings will be in use. Just a little more than four weeks after that, the first audience will be sitting in the theater watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Construction is on schedule and going well, but it’s safe to say that we are feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. 

All of the buildings, including the dressing rooms, clubhouse (where scenery will be stored) and the Robert Dohmen Rehearsal Building are in the final stages of completion and the staff is preparing for move-in. A crew made up largely of APT’s stage managers, production assistants, facilities staff and others will begin in earnest on April 24, unpacking boxes, moving furniture and getting everything set up. It’s a big job, but Michael Broh (APT’s production manager who is also the project manager for this undertaking) has been planning it literally for years, so it’s under control.  Items on the FF&E list (that’s fixtures, furniture and equipment) are being acquired, and that list is long and varied – 1177 items to be exact. Besides all the technical spaces, there are three new lounges, three new kitchens and many restrooms to outfit. Items on the list include: 19 bulletin boards, 23 folding tables, 18 sandbags, 4 coffee makers and so much more. The seats in sections 2 and 3 have been removed and will be replaced by the seating contractor who will come in and re-install the existing seats in the new configuration (Fun fact: they couldn’t come to the APT job until after Major League baseball opening day because they have been busy installing seats at Wrigley Field for the Chicago Cubs). The landscapers are now on site and making great progress. Dozens of new trees are being planted, both backstage and in the lobby. Soon, the new lobby surface, a combination of flagstone, crushed granite, and stamped/colored concrete will be in place. Though their work will continue well into May, it is remarkable to see the daily progress. It’s coming together. And we are extremely excited to share it with you. We’ll see you soon.

Update 3/20: First Day of Spring

It’s the first day of spring, tickets are on sale and last week our directors and designers were all at APT for the annual design conference. These are all sure signs that the APT season is getting close! Construction is about two months from completion and everything is still on schedule. In the next few weeks, the contractors will begin their final punch lists as they prepare to hand the buildings over to us. 

Here’s the latest status report:
The Dressing Rooms are in great shape. We just have a few finishing touches, including lighting, mirrors, acoustic ceiling, and a few other miscellaneous items.  

Likewise, the upper Clubhouse where we will store our scenery is very nearly done – they are just finishing up the flooring and the walkway that will connect it to the stage for easy loading. The lower Clubhouse is nearing completion as well, with just a little more work to be done on the crew lounge area. This will serve as work space for our lighting, sound and deck crews, as well as long-term scenery storage. 

The Robert Dohmen Rehearsal Building now has a concrete floor, and interior walls are complete. Crews have also been working on some additional sound isolation between the rehearsal halls, so that three plays can rehearse at the same time without disturbing each other. The halls are slated to get “sprung” wooden floors on top of the concrete, so the actors can safely and comfortably stand on it for long rehearsals.

The acoustic walls/rain shelters have been erected and fitted for lights and speakers. The crews are now covering them in barnboard, and laying the membrane roofs. They are complicated structures with no right angles, but the crews are doing fantastic work. 

The stage has likewise been fully erected, and the barn board has been fitted on top of the steel. Due to the complexity of the stage design, [Production Manager] Michael Broh visits daily to double check openings, sightlines, etc. We have asked for a variety of adjustments, sometimes large, sometimes small, so we’ve been able to catch potential problems before they become impossible to fix. 

The pit below the stage (trap room) now has a concrete floor and stairs leading in and out. It’s amazing to compare the new structure with the old dirt pit and see how much structure is holding up the stage. 

Landscaping is one of the final pieces of the puzzle, and we are in the final stages of planning. We have put a lot of time and effort to vet our tree, plant, and grass choices with a variety of experts, to make sure we are not creating any invasive problems, and can embrace native species wherever possible. Landscaping will begin in a few weeks and carry on until we open. 

Finally, fundraising continues to grow, and we are within 5% of the final goal. Help us get the rest of the way with a donation to the Next Great Stage Campaign!

Update 2/16: This Is Getting Real!

We’re at the mid-point of February, which means that we are within a mere three months of our expected project completion date.  To the outside observer, it seems that each of the elements looks more complete than incomplete. 

Most of the steel around the stage is in place. It’s covered in plywood and then the plywood is covered in black locust planks that have been stained. Each day, we see more of the stained planks in place, the last step in the process. It’s exciting. The steel for the acoustical walls surrounding the amphitheater are in place and soon will also be covered in the black locust.

While work on the stage is impressive, the work under the stage is equally so. The trap room – the space under the stage -- is well on its way. This room was previously a dark hovel with a dirt floor, a low ceiling, and just a few openings above to the stage (did you ever notice that when someone is buried on the APT stage, it’s always in the same place?).  The new room is concrete with a 12-foot ceiling, and can be rigged to have an opening to almost anywhere on the stage. This will provide much more flexibility for directors and designers and a much more pleasant work experience for cast and crew that need to be down there. 

The dressing room renovations are hurtling toward completion. The bathroom fixtures have been installed and finish carpentry is underway. Rumors have been swirling that if all continues as it has been, this building may be finished a little ahead of schedule. Maybe even in the next 4-6 weeks!

The Clubhouse is also looking great. Upper Clubhouse is where scenery will be stored and is a large open space. It’s about three times larger than the former storage area, and it’s striking to see. One new feature that the increased space affords us is a large carpet rack that will allow rugs and carpet to be stored more efficiently. In the past, crews have struggled with curling corners from rugs that had to be constantly rolled and shoved into a small space. And if that rug happened to get rained on, it presented a whole other set of difficulties. It may sound like a small adjustment, but it will make a big difference to the staff. 

The offices and work space are taking shape in the Lower Clubhouse. The people who will use the space – lighting and sound technicians, deck chief and production assistants – have never had a space of their own before. Now they will have a proper work space, a small break room and even a place to take a nap between shifts in the busiest part of the season. The crew works extremely hard – sometimes in less than ideal weather conditions. It’s great to know that they’ll have a place to rest. 

The concrete floor was poured last week for the Robert Dohmen Rehearsal Studio. Now the work begins on the sprung floor and the walls that separate the three halls from each other. 

In other (non-construction) news:

Save the Date of Sunday, July 2 to join us for the Grand Opening Celebration. The Hill Theatre will be ready for an audience for the first performance on June 10, but we’ll wait a few weeks to have the party. That day from 2-4 pm we’ll have self-guided tours, food and a brief dedication. It’s free and no tickets are required. 

We are getting ever-closer to our fundraising goal of $7.7 million – less than $400,000 to go. If you’d like to help, you can donate to the Next Great Stage Campaign here.

Update 1/16: It’s Winter

Today’s update comes in the middle of an ice storm. School is cancelled in the River Valley and only a handful of staff came to the office today. Still, the parking lot is full (okay, well, not full but as full as it gets in the winter) with the cars of the people who are building APT’s Next Great Stage. Not even the ridiculously icy Golf Course Road will keep them from their work. However, the truck carrying a load of steel could not quite make it up the hill in these conditions. They had to unload in the parking lot for transport on a more favorable day.

Work continues on all the parts of the project, and all are on schedule at this point. It’s not all perfect; Michael Broh, APT’s production manager and the project manager says that issues come up every day. Decisions need to be made, there are unexpected problems that need to be solved. But overall, construction is going very well.

 Of note: we’ve finally gotten past the foundation and are starting to see the new stage rise from the ground. The steel supports (the ones that couldn’t make it up the icy hill) will soon be going up. The wood that will cover it has been stained and delivered. Pretty soon, the stage will begin to look more like a stage and less like a hole in the ground.

 The other elements are coming along as well. The renovated buildings (the dressing room and the former restroom that is being converted to a laundry room) are well on their way to completion. The rough work has been done, and they’re on to things like installing doors, drywall, trim and even painting walls.

 The two new buildings – the Robert Dohmen Rehearsal Studios and the Clubhouse (where scenery will be stored) are also coming along. Both are completely enclosed, and work continues to finish the interior of the buildings.
 On the administrative side, there are a few developments to report:

First, we’re proud to announce the name of our new rehearsal hall: from now on it will be known as the Robert Dohmen Rehearsal Studios, in honor of a major gift from Mr. Dohmen.

 Second, in the next few weeks, donors of $1000 or more will receive a letter and/or email from us with more details about recognizing your gift. As you recall, gifts of $1000 are recognized with a seat plaque, gifts of $2,500 are recognized with an engraved paver in the lobby and gifts of $5,000 or more will be recognized on a sign in the lobby. We’re gathering and confirming the information people would like to have on their seat plaque/paver/lobby sign.

 Third, thanks to a year-end surge, we are just about to cross the $7.3 million mark in fundraising. Only $400,000 to go! If you'd like to help, join us here.

Update 1/4: All Critical Paths are on Schedule

According to Production Manager (and NGS project manager) Michael Broh, “all critical paths are on schedule,” which means that construction is coming along as well as we could have hoped so far.

The concrete-pouring phase of construction is pretty well finished now. All foundations, the stage pit walls, footings and floors that need to be poured have been poured. Much of the work has moved indoors (good thing, since winter is here). The Clubhouse and rehearsal hall are fully enclosed. The stage, of course, remains unenclosed by design, but progress is going well there too. It’s a bit surprising to see how much infrastructure is required for the stage and the new pit under the stage, but it is necessary to accommodate the new catwalk over the stage and the expanded pit under the stage. Both of these elements will allow us more creativity and flexibility in producing plays.

In other news, we’re beginning to choose colors – for the stage, for the surfaces, for the interiors. This is a careful and sometimes slow process. These are important decisions that are going to last a long time, and our team is rigorous about making sure we make the right ones.

The process to choose the color of the stage has been especially rigorous, beginning almost two years ago and reaching a conclusion earlier this week. First, about a dozen stains were applied to black locust (the wood we’re using for the stage) and set in the sun to age. After a year, we narrowed the choices down to a few and asked the painting contractors to show us samples. Brenda DeVita and Michael Broh led the team that vetted the samples. Various versions were debated for weeks, sent across the country for input from Michael Ganio, our stage designer. More samples were requested. They were viewed in various stages of sunlight, viewed from various distances. At last, the ideal shade was chosen – gray with a touch of brown. It’s a hard color to describe, but it’s beautiful. And not too different from what we’re accustomed to. The next step is to see how it looks on the actual stage – but we’ll have to wait for spring for that.

Update 11/30: Clear Skies

We are entering our 7th week of construction, and there is so much to report! The weather this fall has been very favorable for construction, and our contractors have taken advantage of that to the fullest. Construction is on schedule and in some cases a bit ahead of schedule. Here are some quick updates on the various aspects of the project:

  • The Stage: Work continues on the pit under the stage and the foundations that will support the weight of the new stage and catwalk. The footings are complete and they are working on the walls of the pit.
  • Clubhouse: This is the new, expanded scenery storage building behind the stage, and it has both an upper and lower level. The lower level is in place and the concrete floor has recently been poured. The upper level walls are in place.
  • Rehearsal Hall: The new rehearsal hall is coming along quickly! It is a pre-engineered metal building, and the parts arrived just before Thanksgiving – a couple weeks ahead of schedule. The steel structure for the building is in place.
  • Dressing Room: The dressing room building is being expanded and renovated, and the progress seems to be going quickly here too. The stud walls are in place, and the contractors are currently working on wiring and plumbing.
  • The Lobby: There has been a lot of activity here. Most of the re-grading has been completed, the footings for the acoustic walls are in, the family restroom is in progress, the doors to the women’s restroom have been moved to re-route the waiting lines, service windows have been added to the control booth for the house staff to help patrons, among other projects.

And on the fundraising front, a new milestone: we recently passed the $7.2 million mark and have less than $500,000 to raise to fully fund the project. The development staff is concentrating their efforts on year-end fundraising for operations, but when 2017 begins, they’ll be working hard to close out the Next Great Stage Campaign.

Update 10/31: Making Progress

The construction crews have been working for almost four weeks now, and progress has been amazing. The contractors told us before we began that there would be different crews working on different aspects of the project, and that has been the case. On any given day, progress is being made on the stage, the dressing room renovation, the new rehearsal building, the new scenery storage building (called “the Clubhouse) and even the lobby.

Here are some highlights:

  • Stage: the old stage has been taken down and removed, the old pit under the stage has been dug out and removed, and the structure for the pit under the new stage is being put in place.
  • Rehearsal Hall and Clubhouse: The sites have been prepared and the foundations have been poured.
  • Dressing Room: The walls have been taken down to make room for new ones. A new sewer has been installed backstage and plumbing work has begun for the bathrooms, which will now be IN the dressing room instead of across the road. Renovation has begun to turn the former restrooms into a laundry room.
  • Lobby: Site preparation has begun for the new companion restroom. The control booth renovation has begun to accommodate the new patron services window. The boardwalks in the lobby have been removed.

Weather has been pretty favorable during October, and we’re hoping for a few more relatively warm weeks to get as much done as possible before the frost hits. We’ll be back with another update soon. In the meantime, follow the progress on APT’s Facebook page.

Update 10/10: We are Underway!

On Sunday, October 2, we bade farewell to this version of the APT stage with a short ceremony at the end of the last performance of The Comedy of Errors. The members of the Core Company presented a tribute, and David Daniel read a letter from THE STAGE itself. Read both here.

The work began at 6:30 a.m. the next morning. APT’s facilities crew pulled seats from the amphitheater to make room for the new aisles. The stage crew quickly took away all the equipment from the Hill – costumes, props, scenery, lighting equipment, furniture from the lounge – everything had to go!

By noon, sound walls behind the amphitheater had been dismantled, trees were cleared behind the stage to make room for the new rehearsal hall, the construction office trailer was installed in the lobby.

And then, late in the day – maybe around 3:30 p.m. – the word went through the office: the contractors were beginning to take down the walls of the stage. If you want to bear witness, get up the Hill now. People grabbed their camera phones and hardhats, jumped aboard golf carts, and arrived just in time to see the first walls coming down. It was a gamut of emotions, to be sure.

As of today, the walls of the stage are down and soon the foundation will be deconstructed. The area behind the stage has been cleared to make room for the new scenery storage building (which we call “the Clubhouse”) and the rehearsal hall. The footings have been poured for the rehearsal hall. Things seem to be happening very quickly. Be sure to check out the photos above.


By far, our most frequently asked question is “What are you doing with all the wood left over from the stage?” Some of the wood is being repurposed for various uses, such as to make screening walls for the renovated theater. Also, a limited supply of the wood will be available in the APT gift shops next season. The plan is to have some regular boards for sale, and also to have some products made out of the stage wood. 

Update 9/23: On the Verge of Construction!

Construction begins in just over ONE week! We are very excited and, truth be told, slightly terrified. But we are well-prepared and ready to get going. Over the last month, our contractors, project managers, designers and consultants (who we will just refer to as the “team”) has held many more meetings, including one completely devoted to the placement of light switches and outlets.

The team has also met to obtain final permits for construction, to organize and plan moving out of all the current Uphill buildings and to finalize the sound system. Final drawings are complete and have been submitted to the State of Wisconsin. Bids for all parts of the project are either out or have been accepted.

Over the last few weeks, we have finalized plans with our seating contractor. There will be a few changes to the house, most notably extending Aisle 3 through all the rows (it currently stops about halfway). It looks like the new seat count will be 1085, down from our current count of 1140.

As of this week, we have a full set of drawings – 192 sheets in all – at APT. Team members have been poring through them to make sure they are all accurate.

Our fundraising continues, and we are nearly 90% of the way to our goal. The “Pave the Way Challenge” is progressing, with 79 pavers committed as of today. If we reach our goal of 100 pavers (each at the $2500 giving level) by the end of the uphill season on October 2, Allison and Dale Smith will match it with a $250,000 gift.

Finally, we’re planning a little send-off for the current stage, to be held at the end of the final uphill performance on October 2. It promises to be a special night, and tickets are still available if you’d like to join us.