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Arts & Life

Grant Helps Fuel Technology Upgrade At Unicorn Theatre

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Courtesy Unicorn Theatre
The Unicorn Theatre

Audiences at the Unicorn Theatre will see higher-tech productions thanks to a $100,000 grant, the theater has announced.

The grant, from the David Beals Charitable Trust, will support technology upgrades in lighting, sound, projection and electrical systems.

“We’re going to be able to do some things we couldn’t do before,” said Cynthia Levin, the Unicorn’s producing artistic director.

Besides being able to experiment with lighting, run sound through smaller speakers that can be hidden in different places and outfit actors with state-of-the-art body mics, Levin said she’s eager to be able to use multiple video projectors to create the sorts of cinematic scene changes new playwrights are incorporating.

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Courtesy Unicorn Theatre

Because the Beals Charitable Trust was closing out its foundation, Levin said, it was making final, larger-than-usual awards to performing arts organizations.

“They came to us and said we were one of the organizations they were inviting to write a grant for something that would make a difference for the organization, not just for one show but for a long time,” Levin said. “It was like fate.”

Levin said she’d wanted to move into LED lighting, which will dramatically reduce the heat in the theaters, making audiences more comfortable. The new technology also will allow lighting designers to, for example, use one fixture for 20 colors instead of needing 20 different instruments.

“It will cut our electric bill in half,” Levin said.

Using more video scenery also has other practical, behind-the-scenes benefits, Levin said.

“You aren’t wasting resources in building things you throw away at the end of the show, and you save costs on the labor and materials.”

Levin anticipates having the new systems up and running by the world premiere of William Missouri Downs’ How to Steal a Picasso, which opens on Jan. 27. But that show, and Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale (March 2 to 27), don’t have particularly sophisticated technical needs, Levin said, so crews will be learning and testing the new system's capabilities.

Audiences should notice the difference, however, in the rolling world premiere of Hilary Bettis’ The Ghosts of Lote Bravo, April 20 to May 6.

Set in violent Juárez, Mexico, the show is about a sweatshop worker and her daughter who goes missing. When the crooked police refuse to help, the mother asks for guidance from the dark saint, La Santa Muerte, and, according to the  synopsis, proceeds “charging through dreams and visions.”

The Unicorn received several grants “in the neighborhood” or higher than $100,000 when it bought the building at 3828 Main St. in Midtown and again when it added the Jerome Stage, which involved building a whole new lobby. But Levin said this grant is among the largest in the organization’s history.

“This is a very large, impactful grant for us,” Levin said.

C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at cj@kcur.org.

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