Arts Performing Arts

Wortham Center Uses Downtime for Upgrades

Diana Wortham Theatre as viewed from the booth. Photo by Pisgah AVL

By Natasha Anderson

During much of the past year, Wortham Center for the Performing Arts was closed to in-person performances and events due to COVID-19. The center, which comprises the Diana Wortham Theatre, Tina McGuire Theatre and Henry LaBrun Studio, took advantage of the downtime to make improvements to the facility.

“While we had our grand opening in September 2019, there were still several upgrades and maintenance projects that we were not able to complete due to constant activity in the building,” says Wortham Center managing director Rae Geoffrey. “The downtime gave us a concentrated block of time to focus on some of those projects.”

Improvements included refurbishing the theatrical stage rigging with new ropes and locks to increase performance and safety. The rigging is made up of rope lines, pulleys, counterweights and related devices that enable stage crews to quickly, quietly and safely fly components such as curtains, lights, scenery, stage effects and, sometimes, people. In addition to the lift equipment, more fall protection infrastructure was added and other existing equipment was replaced to keep up with current safety standards. The project was enabled by a grant from the Cannon Foundation.

Michael Lowery. Photo by Pisgah AVL

“The rigging system suspends heavy loads up to 40 feet in the air over the stage,” says Wortham Center production manager Michael Lowery. “Keeping it in good shape is important for the safety of those on stage and the crew running the system.”

After more than 20 years of wear and tear from thousands of artists, the Diana Wortham Theatre Green Room (recently renamed the John Ellis Green Room after the center’s former director who retired in 2017) has been updated. This backstage holding room now has new flooring, a fresh coat of paint, upgraded cabinets and a viewing system for artists to watch what is happening onstage. Funding was provided by the late John Cram, Blue Spiral 1 Fine Art and Craft, and Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Additionally, a three-camera system and switcher is currently being installed in Diana Wortham Theatre to increase opportunities for audiences and artists to connect virtually. “After a year in pandemic mode, the experience of attending a performance virtually is here to stay,” says Geoffrey. “This is also a great benefit for the companies who use the Wortham Center, as it provides a professional recording system for their events.”

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