BILLINGS — Staff at the Alberta Bair Theater in downtown Billings are putting the final touches on a $13.6 million renovation project to improve the performing arts space, said Jan Dietrich, executive director for the nonprofit theater Tuesday.
"It's amazing. I've had people say, 'It makes me want to dress up again.' I've had people say, 'You're going to wow the community.' The sound is going to be excellent. The feel in the building and the experience that you'll receive will be wonderful," Dietrich said.
The renovations aren't ready to show off to the public due to group gathering restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. As well, previously scheduled performances for the 2020 season have been shifted to next year, so there wouldn't be much for the audience to see.
"We will have to test all of our systems before we can open to the public, so we’re hoping to be able to start in May with a few stakeholder events, but right now we aren’t staffed. It will take an audience large enough that we can pay for bringing everybody back and be able to see a performance," Dietrich said.
The goal is to bring the public back in for performances starting in September 2021, Dietrich said.
Staff received the keys from the contractor, Langlas and Associates, two weeks ago. A few of the finishing touches include the installation of a point-of-sale system for concessions and rearranging some things backstage.
This renovation is the second in the theater's history. The most recent renovation in 1987 changed its name from the Fox Theater to the Alberta Bair, named after the daughter of Charles Bair, a turn-of-the-century sheep rancher whose former house used to sit where the theater currently rests at North Broadway and Third Avenue North.
The present renovation added more space for guests to mingle on the first and second floors, bigger bathrooms on both levels and the welcome addition of an elevator to make the second-floor handicap accessible.
The design on the second floor incorporates the exterior of the old building, which is now located inside. In the second floor hallway bordering North Broadway, it's possible to see and touch the brickwork that formerly marked the end of the structure.
One feature that can be seen from the street is the huge windows that surround the perimeter of the building. They offer plenty of natural light, and for people on the street, the ability to know when the theater is lit up with a performance.
"The thought behind the design and the openness was we wanted light in here, but more importantly, not only are the people enjoying the show being able to see out, but those outside being able to see in and see that something is happening downtown when the theater is lit up and people are in here," Dietrich said.
The stage and audience seating got a face lift as well. The stage floor was refinished, 1,400 new bright red seats were installed along with new light and sound equipment. The sound baffles on either side of the stage are new with a goal to better direct sound in the space.
Alberta Bair staff still have about $250,000 left to raise to completely fund the renovation. Dietrich said they're currently running a name the seat campaign, where people can purchase the right to name an armrest in the theater to raise the rest of the money. She said a similar campaign was ran in 1987 with great success.
“People are excited about that. It’s a place to show your support of the performing arts in Billings. People have bought them for grandchildren, friends, businesses. It’s a place we make memories and a lot more memories will be created," Dietrich said.
Main floor seats will cost $2,500 to name and the balcony seats will cost $1,500. Dietrich said staff have already sold about 100 seats so far. To find contact information to the executive offices of the theater and learn more, click here.