Wheeler Opera House dialed in with new technology

Production team takes advantage of year-long closure to replace old systems

Aspen Country Day School seventh graders run through their scene of the annual play being performed at The Wheeler Opera House in town on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. The play will be performed for other students and the parents of the eighth graders on Friday and Saturday at 5 pm. This will be the first performance in The Wheeler Opera House since COVID-19 closed the theatre to the public. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

As the Wheeler Opera House re-emerges to the public after 15 months of being closed, patrons will notice improvements to the production side of the operation.

Even though the 132-year-old building has been closed, it has not been quiet, both on the outside and in the inside.

A $2 million extensive masonry project to restore and replace bricks on the exterior of the building that was expedited during the pandemic is expected to wrap up in September.

The production team inside the building made the most of the dark days as well, upgrading technology and installing a new Avid S6L audio console, a wireless Clear-com system and a state-of-the-art Barco Laser 4K projector.

The audio console replaces a system that was over 20 years old, and gives operators more options to expand or customize performances, with 64 inputs and 32 outputs, according to Michael Baca, the Wheeler’s assistant production manager.

The new projector will give audiences a crisper view on the screen and brings technology at the Wheeler up to industry standards.

It also will use less energy due to its efficiencies.

“We are trying to be innovative and responsible with our environment and carbon footprint,” Baca said.

With busy performance schedules, having time to make upgrades and complete maintenance in the theater is a rare occurrence, according to Nicole Levesque, the Wheeler’s audience services manager.

“It’s hard to find those windows to get the work done,” she said. “It’s an old building and we want it to look good inside and outside.”

Another upgrade was installing a hearing loop system by Assist2Hear Inc., which allows an individual with hearing aides to plug into the system.

“The user can walk into the venue and adjust their device so they can have the best sound in the house,” said Erin Nichols, owner of Assist2Hear Inc.

The Clear-com system allows staff to wear wireless headsets to communicate with one another, said Chad Eaton, the Wheeler’s production manager.

In total, the production upgrades amount to just over $250,000.

“We’re pretty dialed in,” Eaton said, adding that replacing the rigging system is the next big project that will get done in the next couple of years. “It’s the biggest request we get from clients.”

People walk by the still shuttered Wheeler Opera House as the restoration project continues on a spring day in downtown Aspen on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Wheeler building team also has advanced the cleaning of the facility with UV light disinfection and air filtration systems. Ionizers and MERV 13 filters are in all air handlers, and multiple air handlers also utilize UV lighting. The control dampers that let in fresh air are 100% open when the building is occupied.

Aspen Show Tix has expanded ticket delivery, including the option to add tickets to the digital wallet. Ticket buyers are encouraged to purchase tickets online and present their tickets on a mobile device for touchless scanning.

The Wheeler opened on June 11 with its first live performance, the 13th annual Aspen Fringe Festival.

It hosted live music as part of the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience last weekend and is set for performances this weekend with the Aspen Music Festival and School.

“The Wheeler is open and we are doing everything possible to make sure it’s safe,” Baca said. “We hope these upgrades and improvements show our patrons and guests that we are the premier venue.”