Confluence Project could open a grand stage for Eau Claire

New spaces downtown could benefit theater program, general community

Chair of Music and Theatre Arts Alan Rieck said Phoenix Park and Royal Credit Union have already begun the transformation of downtown, but the Confluence Project will bring tremendous growth and revitalization. © 2014 Jessica Amaris

Chair of Music and Theatre Arts Alan Rieck said Phoenix Park and Royal Credit Union have already begun the transformation of downtown, but the Confluence Project will bring tremendous growth and revitalization. © 2014 Jessica Amaris

Story by Jessica Amaris, Freelancer

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The Lion King, Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera. All major Broadway productions that UW-Eau Claire students currently have to travel to Chicago, Milwaukee or Minneapolis to see, now have the potential to come to Eau Claire with the downtown revival project.

 With much at stake for the city of Eau Claire’s downtown revival, there’s more behind this curtain. The Confluence Project referendum passed on April 1 and waiting in the wings are eager theater students and faculty who see this project as an opportunity to expand their education, public exposure and performing space.

“I think besides the space, this (Confluence Project) is going to bring an excitement to the students and the community about the theater department,” Eau Claire theater major Sam Sirianni said. “More people are going to be going to see shows.”

A collaborative effort among the city of Eau Claire, Eau Claire County and the university has begun in order to raise funds to ensure the project goes forward.

In the meantime, theater students are holding performances in university provided spaces such as the 63-year-old Kjer Theater, but according to the Chair of Music and Theatre Arts Alan Rieck, these venues are in need of serious updating in space and equipment.

Theater students are using old offices to house their props, costumes and set pieces. Rieck said the Confluence Project would provide more space for the things behind the scenes.

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 “Right now our spaces for building of sets, for lighting design, for costume creation and storage are woefully inadequate,” Rieck said.

Rieck said Kjer Theater would be knocked down and completely replaced by the Confluence Project. The project will also allow for a medium size stage, which is not present anywhere else on campus. However, Rieck said the problem is it still won’t be on campus.

Should construction begin, the Confluence Project will be built nine-tenths of a mile from campus, concerning theater faculty and students that a commute may prevent some students from attending productions.

“So the challenge for us is going to be, how do we maintain a connection of a theater area to campus when the building is nine-tenths of a mile away?” Rieck said. “I think it’s doable but we’re going to have to be creative.”

Rieck said there has been talk of providing a shuttle and bus service that will transport students and faculty to the future site, but it’s too early to have anything set in stone.

Eau Claire native and student, Shannen Ohman said she feels the Confluence Project will be in a perfect location for drawing in not only students but the general public as well.

“I think it’s a great in-between, Ohman said. “I would still consider it really close to campus but still downtown where people from other areas of town … are going to come to it because it’s right in the middle. I think it’s in the perfect location.”

Though Rieck said there is concern among faculty for getting students to the space, there is an excitement about what sorts of outside shows the new space will bring in.

Traditionally, Eau Claire has never had adequate spaces to house large performances and according to Rieck this new state-of-the-art space will allow an opportunity for traveling Broadway shows to be brought to Eau Claire.

Sirianni said he believes the opportunity for big productions to be performed in Eau Claire will not only bring the community together but will provide an educational experience to theater students.

“It will be awesome for the community and it will be great for the students too because its really important for us to see other people’s work not just the work we’re doing,” Sirianni said.

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