The Rapidian

Wealthy Theatre awarded grant, hopes to become world's first LED historic theatre

American stage lighting company Electronic Theatre Controls awarded CMC an industry-best ION 2000 lighting console, helping the theatre get closer to converting 100% to LED lighting.
Erin and Riley Wilson greeted by a marquee welcome sign at ETC, whose lobby is themed entirely on the "Nighthawks" painting.

Erin and Riley Wilson greeted by a marquee welcome sign at ETC, whose lobby is themed entirely on the "Nighthawks" painting. /Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC)

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Want to learn more?

As a thank you to the neighborhood, and a celebration of all things local - Wealthy Theatre and Local First have partnered to host a free holiday screening of "It's a Wonderful Life," and you're invited!

Between 3-4 p.m. on December 22, you can learn more about Wealthy Theatre's recent upgrades and improvements, thanks to the the support of the community. The movie screening will be preceded by a short presentation of completed and near-future projects to make Wealthy Theatre more sustainable, functional, relevant and beautiful.

"It's a Wonderful Life"

December 22, 2013

3 p.m. doors open

4 p.m. movie

Brought to you by Local First and Wealthy Theatre, a service of the Community Media Center.

ETC ION 2000 lighting console.

ETC ION 2000 lighting console. /Electronic Theatre Controls

Wealthy Theatre solar array, installed August 2013, thanks to Rockford Construction and Feyen-Zylstra.

Wealthy Theatre solar array, installed August 2013, thanks to Rockford Construction and Feyen-Zylstra. /Rockford Construction

This week, Wisconsin-based stage lighting manufacturer Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) awarded Wealthy Theatre a grant for an ETC ION 2000 lighting console, valued at $10,000.

"This is a huge boost for our ultimate goal, to become the world's first historic venue to convert to LED stage lighting, which would change everything for Wealthy Theatre forever," says theatre director Erin Wilson.

The ION console provides a significant upgrade in capacity, he says - even enabling Wealthy Theatre to control LED stage lighting instruments.

"If we had an LED stage lighting inventory, combined with our newly-installed solar array, we could actually power all stage lighting off the grid, with the energy of the sun," Wilson says. "A statement like that would get you laughed off the stage, if you were speaking to a group of theatre operators. But it's true. Wealthy Theatre, for several unique qualities, would be the perfect first-ever theatre to convert entirely to LED stage lighting - and in the perfect city for it."

Wilson recognizes the theatre's ability to contribute to greening the city in these efforts. Grand Rapids recently was named the "greenest mid-sized city in America."

LED lights use 90-95 percent less power than incandescents. They're expensive to purchase, Wilson says, but explains that the added cost is partly because they last a lot longer than regular stage lights.

"We'll add a few LED instruments from recent fundraising," Wilson says. "For reference, we created an itemized list of an entirely LED inventory, position by position, but it's a prohibitive cost of $100,000 beyond our present budget."

Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC)

Wilson first met with ETC's CEO Fred Foster in 2012, in Madison, Wisconsin, to discuss the theatere's need to reduce overhead costs by infusing greening technologies while preserving historic traditions - and its ultimate goal to power stage lighting through solar, which never has been attempted at any theatre.

"I knew I was about to meet one of the most brilliant inventors America ever has produced, and I expected a fast-paced, tech-heavy conversation about our hope to convert our stage lighting to LED," Wilson says.

But instead, he says Foster spent most of the three-hour meeting asking about Wealthy Theatre's role in the neighborhood.

"He was deeply interested in the social impact the theatre has along Wealthy Street," says Wilson. "He asked about demographics, gentrification, identity and many other dynamics that are part of the ongoing conversation in this neighborhood. He was very curious about all of these things."

Wilson says Grand Rapids business owner John Hyatt arranged the meeting with Foster.

"John Hyatt has been working with us from the very start, in this effort to cut overhead costs through LED stage lighting," he says. "He's been a real friend to this theatre."

Shared values

Wilson says he discovered a positive overlap of values between the company and the theatre, including a focus on minimizing environmental impact.

"Here's a company with a huge domestic workforce making hardware 24 hours a day, and the sum total of all liquid waste in a year can fit into a paint can," Wilson says.

Wealthy Theatre, with the help of local organizations like West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) has already worked on greening their operations in a number of ways:

  • replaced plastic water bottles with carbon-filtered water in biodegradeable cups
  • added containment measures at every exit to preserve energy
  • converted all administrative areas to LED
  • added a solar array on the roof
  • added timers and motion sensors to lighting controls
  • eliminated nearly all paper in ticketing, programming and booking of events.

The Grand Rapids Planning Department's Historic Preservation Commission recently praised Wealthy Theatre as a "model for preserving historic tradition while implementing alternative energy solutions to challenges faced in all historic districts, nationwide."

Rockford Construction partnered with Wealthy Theatre to oversee and manage recent construction projects. Feyen-Zylstra installed the solar array on the newly repaired roof in August.

Wilson says Wealthy Theatre's sustainability efforts hope to continue "what Mr. (Peter) Wege set in motion here, by applying his principles and achieving some balance between the economical and ecological.

"But we're well past the point where environmentalism is a burden," Wilson says. "It's smart financial strategy, because it saves you money, and that's good for business."

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