Wheeler crowd applauds promise of new seats | AspenTimes.com
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Wheeler crowd applauds promise of new seats

Janet Urquhart

Wheeler Opera House director Gram Slaton earned a round of applause from the sellout audience that packed the historic theater Thursday.Slaton didn’t have anything to say about the Aspen Filmfest presentation that was about to begin, but he did utter the words “new seats.”Wheeler administrators are exploring the options for new seats, and perhaps reconfigured seating, to replace what has been in use in the auditorium since the 1940s.Slaton, who took over as Wheeler executive director last fall, said he’s hoping for new seats that are a little bit wider and deeper.”The thing that constantly is mentioned … is the need for a 21st century chair for a 21st century body,” he said. The Wheeler staff hears about the existing seating from user groups that put on performances there, as well as audience members.In the case of the cramped balcony, new seats will be arranged to accommodate longer legs. Throughout the theater, it means seats that fit a wider rear spread.At the same time, Slaton said the Wheeler is exploring different seating configurations to eliminate some of the spots with obstructed views – primarily along the edges on the main floor of the auditorium. Perhaps the aisles should go there, he mused.Also in the plans is the reconstruction of the orchestra pit in front of the stage, where four rows of seats currently sit on plywood held up with scaffolding. The envisioned rebuilt pit will have a floor that is raised and lowered hydraulically, with seats that can be removed and reattached quickly. When the seats are gone and the floor is raised to the level of the auditorium, it will be structurally able to accommodate dancing in front of the stage, Slaton said.The new auditorium seats and the rebuilt pit are slated for September, but redoing the seats in the balcony probably won’t happen this year, he said. Figuring out how to better utilize that space is a work in progress.Ultimately, Slaton isn’t anxious to lose any of the Wheeler’s 505 existing seats, though 35 to 50 of them have obstructed views, depending on the performance – a situation he doesn’t consider acceptable, either.In May, a new electronic marquee will be installed above the ticket windows inside the opera house’s street-level lobby. It can’t be placed on the outside of the building because of the Wheeler’s historic status. Also this spring, the Wheeler plans to install a new ticketing system that offers real-time online purchase capabilities, Slaton said.In total, the changes at the Wheeler will cost an estimated $500,000. Individual contracts for various aspects of the project will go to the City Council for approval before work proceeds, he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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