The interior of the Washington Center for Performing Arts has a new look. With the help of community support, an extensive theater renovation project is now complete. In addition to cosmetic upgrades to the lobby, main staircase and other community spaces, the Washington Center was also able to increase seating capacity and replace decades-old stage equipment over the course of the renovation.
Jill Barnes, executive director of the Washington Center said that it is a dream come true to see this space in a new light, especially coming out of the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I just walk around and I’m beaming ear to ear looking at the details in the materials,” said Barnes. “And it’s so beautiful.”
The Washington Center for Performing Arts serves about 110,000 visitors each year and hosts a lineup of plays, presentations and musical performances during the annual theater season. Barnes said that plans to upgrade the theater have been in the works for over five years. With different facets of the theater building in need of updates, the project has been split into multiple phases.
The initial portion of the renovation project included significant upgrades to the theater’s lighting system, as most of the stage lighting had been in service for over three decades. Now that new lighting has been installed, Barnes said groups that perform at the Washington Center have access to this modern equipment and will have more creative control of their onstage presentations.
“As you can imagine after 35 years, lighting technology has changed a lot,” said Barnes. “So we have an upgraded system. It’s labor and energy efficient and there’s just so much more versatility to it.”
Over the past few years, the Washington Center has also replaced other stage equipment, installing a new audio system and an HD projector. There have also been upgrades to the theater’s rigging system, which helps to move onstage curtains, lights and set pieces.
The second portion of the renovation project included updates to the Washington Center’s community spaces and seating arrangements. The Washington Center’s signature green seats have now been replaced with a jewel-toned array of seats from the orchestra to balcony level. The green seats have been donated to multiple theater groups across the South Sound, including Harlequin Productions and the Lakewood Playhouse.
Renovations have also increased the theater’s seating capacity. Barnes said that seating has been raised from about 983 seats to 1,004 seats, without downgrading seat size or audience comfort. Upgrades have also allowed the Washington Center to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible and companion seats within the theater. There are also additional transfer seats that have lifting armrests, available to audience members who may need support when getting into or out of their seat.
There have been updates to the theater’s air exchange system and concrete floor, in addition to a fresh coat of paint.
The lobby also received a considerable cosmetic renovation. Alongside a fresh color palette, new flooring and carpet were installed in the lobby space and other common areas. To help audience members better navigate the venue, clear signage was also installed, marking entrances, exits and hallways.
Standout details help to reflect the creative nature of the theater space, including a towering feature wall and large circular windows that look out on Downtown Olympia. Audience members will also be able to take in a striking wallpaper detail. Barnes said the new wallpaper print is a replica of Andy Warhol’s Inkblot painting series.
The general public was invited to see the completed renovations at the Washington Center Reopening Celebration Sunday, Nov. 13. Community members were able to explore the new space, take in the lobby scenery, signage, seating arrangements, projection system and theater equipment. Washington Center staff offered guided tours and door prizes. Local performance groups also gathered at the space to celebrate the updated theater. As cosmetic changes enhance experience for audience members, upgrades to theatrical equipment may also have a positive impact for groups who perform at the Washington Center.
For Organizations like the Olympia Youth Chorus, the theater’s new sound and lighting equipment may be beneficial for future performances. The Olympia Youth Chorus is an artistic partner of the Washington Center and has an annual performance at the theater each March.
Lorraine Hamilton, the Executive Director of Olympia Youth Chorus, said the annual performance provides a valuable experience for young performers, as they build professional musicianship skills in a venue that houses high-quality equipment and amenities. Hamilton is also looking forward to the look and sound of future Olympia Youth Chorus shows with the theater’s upgraded stage equipment.
“We feel it’s really important for our singers to support this local venue,” said Hamilton. “And it helps to sort of shape their musical professionalism, if you will. They go down into the green room, warm up and experience the stage lights, the piano, and the sound system. We feel it gives them an experience they can’t get anywhere else. It’s an important venue in our community.”
The Masterworks Choral Ensemble is based out of Southwest Washington and hosts four performances a year at the Washington Center. Commemorating its 40th season, the Masterworks Choral Ensemble has a long history at the Center and was one of the first acts to perform on the Center stage when it first opened in the 1980s, according to Victoria Montrose, board member and business manager for Masterworks.
Updates to the Washington Center are exciting for Roslyn Dailey, president of Masterworks’ board of directors because it demonstrates the care the center has for performers and their ability to host high-quality shows for the community.
“I think it’s awesome that the Washington Center is putting in the time and the effort to update it,” said Dailey. “It makes the groups that perform here, I think, feel even more respected. And it makes it feel, I think, a little more prestigious. And it’s very fun to be able to see the changes, and I think it’ll just make the sound better. And make everyone feel even more excited to be on the stage.”