Since the opening of their new Lee Norvelle Drama Center in 2002, Indiana University’s original 1930s-era theater sat unused. Currently completing a full renovation, the space has been repurposed as a combination venue hosting a cinema in the original theater house space, a movement studio in the former grid area, and a blackbox performance space in what was the flyloft.
Working with general contractor Messer Construction and project architect MGA Partners, Chicago Flyhouse was chartered to deliver several projects for the venue, including the design and installation of a motorized Austrian drape to crown the renovated Cinema stage, along with matching panel drapery to control acoustics in the audience area.
Comprised of custom-dyed fabric supplied by drapery vendor, I. Weiss, the stage curtain and matching pleated fabric side panels evoke the grandeur of the space during its heyday in the 30s.
The multiple acoustic wall drapes are each made of a single, box-pleated 46×16′ fabric pane, and the motorized Austrian incorporates digital, programmable limits, and was designed to be controlled from the booth as part of the cinema’s state-of-the-art audio-visual system or activated remotely from an on-stage podium. In addition, the curtain is programmed to synchronously rise with the lowering of the pre-existing motorized panels which protect the auditorium’s historic WPA-era murals, creating an impressive visual effect.
The motorized system incorporates a customized Flyhouse lineshaft 2HP hoist with UHMW yo-yo drums and eleven lifting lines. Installation of these elements presented significant challenges as access to the Cinema space was limited. To get a scissor lift into the cinema, Flyhouse crew loaded the scissor into the adjoining theater building, then used the space’s orchestra pit hydraulic platform to lower the scissor into the basement complex. Crews then drove the lift through a series of tight basement hallways until it was underneath the cinema, and then used the cinema’s hydraulic pit platform to bring the scissor lift to stage level.
In addition, as the space’s decorative plaster ceiling was already finished, the access holes created for the curtain’s cables had to be small (2″), carefully drilled, and extremely discreet. And with the ceiling in place, it was impossible for Flyhouse crew to see the stage floor from the structural steel where the drums for the lifting lines were being installed, necessitating detailed calculations and exact measurements. Finally, the lifting lines drums had to sit in a tight location between the duct work and the structural steel with only 3″ of overhead clearance.
This component of Flyhouse’s contributions to IU’s renovations involved significant coordination with the GC and other trades to ensure that the drapery was not installed until the environment was near completion and dust-free.