GREENSBORO — Martin Campbell has thought for years that the Carolina Theatre needed better stage lighting.
Many stage lights in the historic downtown theater use old-style incandescent bulbs with cellophane-like colored filters — also called gels — to illuminate performers and scenes.
Touring artists and their production crews specify the lighting they want, so the theater often rents equipment to accommodate a show.
“We are very far behind,” said Campbell, the theater’s technical director, as he showed the current fixtures. “It gets by, but a lot of people are starting to walk in here expecting a lot more than what we can do.”
That soon will change.
Thanks to a $100,000 gift from the VF Foundation, the theater will replace many of those incandescent fixtures with LED theatrical illumination.
The move to LED will significantly reduce electrical consumption and bring new color-changing and design capabilities to stage productions.
“This is going to be a huge step in the right direction,” Campbell said.
The new stage lighting represents the latest step in the rejuvenation of the 91-year-old theater at 310 S. Greene St.
VF Foundation, the private foundation financed by VF Corp., focuses on environmental sustainability, and its Free To Be movement to encourage creative self-expression.
“Supporting important initiatives in our community, particularly those that include a sustainable and environmentally responsible component, are a high priority for the VF Foundation,” VF Corp. executive vice president Anita Graham said in a news release.
Brian Gray, Carolina Theatre executive director, said he hopes to have the new lighting installed by the end of summer.
Last summer, the nonprofit theater underwent the first phase of a $2.5 million rejuvenation, to be financed with donations and grants.
The work retained the 1927 historic appearance while updating for comfort and technology.
When the theater reopened in October, visitors to its first and second floors saw new auditorium seating, new carpet, fresh paint, an expanded concessions area and renovated restrooms.
Audiences have enjoyed enhanced sound. New permanent speakers, tuned to the room, hang from the ceiling on the sides of the proscenium, no longer in the middle. A new audio loop improved sound for guests with hearing aids.
“We need to make sure that the first phase of our project is about client comfort and bringing people in,” said Randy Spivey, who co-chairs the capital campaign with Irish Spencer.
“But we have to be cognizant of the magic we make happen,” Spivey said. “It’s visual. It’s sound. It’s a total experience.”
The new theatrical lighting will add to the magic.
The theater has 120 fixtures. Some were purchased from the 1982 World’s Fair in Tennessee and are used occasionally in The Crown, the theater’s third-floor performance space.
The theater had planned to wait for the renovation’s second phase to replace old stage lighting.
VF Foundation’s unexpected grant changed that.
The $100,000 will replace 50 to 60 fixtures at an average cost of $2,000 each, Campbell said.
More will be replaced when the theater raises the entire $182,000 budgeted for LED fixtures, theater Development Director Spencer Conover said.
Some current but newer fixtures will be kept.
Campbell is now selecting the lights.
As the theater undertook the renovation last summer, it encountered an unexpected expense.
City fire inspectors said it needed to update its fire detection and alarm system to meet current codes, Gray said.
So it installed a new one at a cost of $127,920, Conover said.
More renovation awaits.
The boiler and hot water tank must be replaced.
Existing space near The Crown — including an old projection booth — will be renovated as dressing rooms for performers and a connecting walkway from the fourth-floor elevator lobby.
Performers in The Crown now use its catering kitchen as a dressing room.
The tech booth will move to the fourth level.
That work could be done over next winter or next summer, Gray said.
“We have tried not to move forward with anything that is not paid for,” Spivey said.
The theater’s board of directors awaits the results of a study of the building’s decorative terracotta facade. That will determine work to be done and its cost.
So far, nearly $2.3 million has been raised toward the original $2.5 million goal, Spivey said. That doesn’t include the VF Foundation grant.
To cover the unexpected gift and alarm system, the campaign will raise its goal to $2.8 million, Spivey said.
Renovation to date has proven valuable, Spivey said. Although they have not compiled attendance figures yet, theater staff has noticed an increase.
“It’s driving increased giving, more earned revenue, more interest in renting the building by people who produce events,” Spivey said. “So it’s an investment that is paying off for the community.”