WYO Theater expansion means more theater, music, community collaboration

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SHERIDAN — When the Ten Tenors performed at the WYO Theater last December, Executive Director Erin Butler found herself sardined on stage left between 10 Australian singers, three musicians and a couple sound guys hunched over large pieces of equipment as she waited to bring the group on stage. Several Tenors spilled onto the stairs because there was nowhere else to go.

“That was a tiny space for all those dudes!” Butler reminisced earlier this week.

While cozy has its charms, bigger will be better with the WYO Theater’s expansion into the old Hallmark building, part of which is set to be finished this fall in time for the theater’s annual gala Oct. 20 and coming season of music, theater, dance and more.

The final phase of the WYO’s expansion efforts will eventually see the entire Hallmark building north of the theater renovated. The first floor is currently undergoing its makeover with O’Dell Construction serving as construction manager. Full occupancy is scheduled for November but some of the space will be usable prior to that time, Butler said.

Built in 1903 by the Masons — who met on the third floor for decades — the building was solid but aging and in need of care. Project engineers with Arete Design Group told Butler if work had been delayed too much longer, the building may have been past saving.

Susan Bigelow, Sheridan College vice president of external relations and economic development, wrote the grant that secured the $2 million needed to complete first floor renovations and updates to the “envelope,” or external structure of the building. As with phase one of the expansion into the old Perkins building, the effort to renovate the Hallmark building has been a collaboration, she said.

The Wyoming Business Council bestowed the $2 million grant under its downtown development program. The value of the building, which was donated by Whitney Benefits to the college which then donated it to the city, was used for the required local match to secure the grant. The WYO Theater is owned by the city of Sheridan.

Sheridan College and the WYO Theater have joined forces to raise the remaining $1.7 million needed to renovate the second and third floors of the building. Those funds will primarily come from grants and private donations.

Bigelow believes all the work will be more than worth it, contributing to Sheridan’s growing creative economy and overall downtown appeal.

“With renovating and saving a historic building on a downtown corner, a prominent downtown corner, we really add to the vibrancy and attractiveness of our downtown area,” Bigelow said.

The expansion further solidifies the WYO’s partnership with the college’s theater and dance program, bringing to life the vision for the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center. Previously the college had no permanent space for dance instruction. Classes will now be held in the new dance studio, which will also be available for events and rentals, Butler said.

“In theater, if a space is available, we will use it, we’ll just fill it,” Butler said about the benefit of more space to rehearse, learn and store needed items.

That proven ability to fill a space to the brim is what enabled the WYO to secure additional money from the Wyoming Business Council, which also granted $2 million in 2011 for the Mars Theater expansion south of the WYO, Bigelow said.

It’s an “if you build it, they will come” scenario. The support for college, community and children’s theater is there; it will fill all the space available and spill out to help build the fabric of the community.

“There’s something so exciting and connecting when you can be in a space and have a shared experience with someone,” Butler said. “…You laugh, you clap, you yell something out. Whatever’s happening, even if it’s not you individually but “you” as a whole, they’re hearing your applause and they’re responding to it. They’re hearing your laughter and they’re responding to it. It’s this awesome connection. It’s mind-blowing.”

 

INFO BOX

What’s in a space?

The WYO Theater’s northward expansion into the old Hallmark building will benefit the WYO, Sheridan College and the community at large. Here’s what’s in store.

Exterior

Completion fall 2017

• New roof

• Asbestos abatement

• Structural work

• Safety updates

• Updates to the façade of the building, opening bricked-over windows and adding stately entrance doors

First floor

Completion fall 2017

• Additional lobby space

• Larger, more user-friendly box office

• New dance studio

• Green room for performers

• Coat check for guests

• Room for volunteers to store belongings

• Expanded stage left, more than doubling the size

• Street-side loading door, eliminating awkward alleyway access

• Elevator for patron use and equipment transfer

• Curved staircase that will mirror the already existing staircase

Second floor

Completion dependent on fundraising

• Permanent office space for WYO staff

• Classroom space for Sheridan College instruction in costumes, make-up and more

Third floor

Completion dependent on fundraising

• Expansive rehearsal space for college, Tandem Productions children’s theater and more

• Two studio spaces for art, music, vocal lessons and more

• Sound and light lab for hands-on technical theater instruction

By |Aug. 25, 2017|

About the Author:

Hannah Sheely is the digital content editor at The Sheridan Press. She has lived in Colorado and Montana but loves her sunny home state of Wyoming best. She joined The Press staff in February 2013.

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