The Isthmus Jazz Festival is the first event at the new, improved Wisconsin Union Theater, which has been under construction for the past two years. Richard Davis and Willie Pickens will be the inaugural performers at Shannon Hall, the theater's primary performance space.
Designed with an eye toward comfort and contemporary aesthetics, Shannon Hall is vastly different from the old Wisconsin Union Theater auditorium, which opened in 1939. For starters, each of the mocha-colored seats is 21 inches wide -- three inches wider than the original seats -- to match those of other modern performance venues. There will also be more elbow room. The old theater had a capacity of 1,300, while the new one can hold 1,165. Some of the lost capacity is due to the larger chair size, but most of those seats were lost when the glass-walled chair circle at the back of the house was replaced with a new sound and light booth.
The seating is just one upgrade that will make the theater more pleasant to sit in. A new HVAC system will make it much easier to control the auditorium's temperature.
"The old cooling system was inefficient and very loud," says Ralph Russo, the theater's director, pointing to vents in the auditorium's floor. "The new system heats and cools where the patrons are, and it's silent."
The system will also improve energy efficiency, helping the theater earn a LEED silver certification and decrease its carbon footprint as it celebrates its 75th anniversary this fall.