That's the first thing you'll notice when you walk into the lobby of the new Lord Leebrick theater on West Broadway in downtown Eugene. At least, that's the impression you'll have if you've been accustomed to seeing plays at Lord Leebrick's old theater at 540 Charnelton St.
The second thing you'll see is the elegant lobby lights.
"We had a gift from a donor who wanted it to be spent on art," said Lord Leebrick's artistic director, Craig Willis, as he gave a hard-hat tour of the company's new performance space. It opens next week for the production of "Next to Normal."
"I thought, 'We make art,' " Willis said of the proffered gift.
After a little more thought, though, Willis decided to use the donated money for lobby lighting. What looks like a small, upside-down forest of silver birch trees, each suspending a small crystal globe, hangs from the warm blue ceiling.
Lord Leebrick, established in 1992 by founders Randy Lord and Chris Leebrick, is nearing completion of the first phase of a $2.3 million project. Basically, the company is taking a 1927 commercial building, first constructed as an open market and later operated as a grocery store, and turning it into the kind of theater complex that many performance groups can only dream about.
At its heart will be a new 124-seat theater with three and four rows of seating on risers surrounding three sides of a thrust stage. Interior walls in the theater will be purple.
Despite the amount of money Lord Leebrick has been given and has raised to spend on the project, the company has proceeded cautiously.
Willis doesn't plan to install another row of seating, a move that would raise the capacity to 170, until the company is filling the smaller number of seats consistently. They've bought used equipment when they could or acquired it for free.
And as with just about all construction projects, everything was wrapping up at the last minute last week.
With less than two weeks to go before preview performances begin for Lord Leebrick's production of "Next to Normal," the theater interior offered a chaotic scene of construction workers on hydraulic lifts, scattered toolboxes - and no theater seats. (Willis and the theater staff plan to install the seats themselves.)
New lighting still was stacked in the company's crowded offices at one end of the building.
An enormous rig of black-painted scaffolding sat in the middle of the open stage. It turns out the scaffolding is a major part of the set for "Next to Normal," although it will be used eventually to support lighting for a second performance space yet to be completed.
"We're simultaneously building the set for our first show," Willis said as he looked at the chaos around him. "We purchased the scaffolding a couple years ago from a children's theater that was forced out of business in Indiana.
"We thought, wouldn't it be fun to use part of it in a set? And this is the perfect show to do it in."
Lord Leebrick's new theater offers amazing amenities compared to the cramped facility on Charnelton Street.
"We have two of the most luxurious control rooms I've ever seen," Willis said, standing in one of the pair of roughed-out spaces where stage managers and lighting technicians will be able to control productions from behind soundproof glass.
The new facility quadruples the theater's lighting capacity, from 48 channels of 1,000 watts each to 96 channels of 2,000 watts. Hence, the 200 new lighting fixtures are being stored next to desks in the office.
As patrons of the old theater know full well, the only thermostat for the theater seating system was in the lobby. Somehow, the temperature was never quite right.
The new facility has three separate heating, ventilation and air- conditioning systems, one each for the lobby, the theater and the scene shop.
Yes, the scene shop. A place where scenic designers can construct sets just behind the stage.
There is also a 1,000-square-foot rehearsal room, complete with skylight, offering a performance space that precisely matches the stage next door.
This first phase of construction hasn't even begun to fill all the space in the new building. Willis is planning a second, 99-seat, black box theater for smaller and experimental productions.
He figures it will open in 2014 and could cater to the late-night bar crowd on Broadway.
There is also plenty of room in the building's still-undeveloped attic space, where Willis wants to put a three- bedroom apartment, with kitchen, for visiting guest artists.
"This all gives us a certain air of legitimacy," Willis said. "This first show is going to be phenomenal."
Call Bob Keefer at 541-338-2325 or e-mail him at email@example.com.