The Avalon Theatre is a historic theatre located in downtown Easton, Maryland.

Originally built as a cinema in 1921, at the cost of $100,000, The Avalon Theatre immediately became, as one newspaper reporter proclaimed, the “Showplace of the Eastern Shore.” Visually spectacular, another newspaper reporter made the bold statement that “no house in the South will compare with all its detail.” Its detail included leaded glass doors at every theatre entrance, an 18-ft dome with 148 lights, a 300 pipe electric-pneumatic organ, an electric player piano, and a ballroom on the second floor.

In 1934, the Schine Chain Theatres purchased the theatre and renovated it with an art deco theme. It would become one of the most famous movie houses in the area, hosting three world premieres, including The First Kiss, starring Gary Cooper. The theatre eventually fell into disrepair and closed its doors in 1985. In 1989, it was restored as a performing arts centre and then purchased in 1992 by the town of Easton.

The Avalon Foundation has operated the theatre since 1994, and almost a century after its completion remains a vibrant hub of community life for the nine-county Eastern Shore territory east of the Chesapeake Bay, hosting nationally known and local performers. The 423- seat venue presents a variety of musical and dramatic theatre, symphony orchestras and performances, but can also be configured for banquets and cabarets, exhibitions and ballroom dancing.

CEO of The Avalon Foundation, Al Bond, worked over a 10-year period to assemble all of the properties in the building and manage a major $2.1 million renovation of the entire venue.

Early on in the renovation process, The Avalon Foundation retained the Walter Storyk Design Group (WSDG) to complete a master plan study of the long-term renovations. Those plans included theatre expansion, audiovisual upgrades and balcony reconstruction. “Originally we were hired to create a sweeping master plan for proposed renovations to the theatre, including possible expansions, balcony rework, new bathrooms, new studio facilities, even down to very detailed technical upgrades to treatments, lighting and the playback system,” said Joshua A. Morris, COO Partner, WSDG. “The plan included working with the Avalon and its members on creating a package for review for the town permitting office as well as the historical committee. That plan allowed Avalon over the years to use its energy in the most efficient ways possible, be that reviewing expansion or renovating the balcony – which turned out to be the most effective direction. At that point, we were brought back into the fold to help develop that approach, and we worked with Al and Jessica Bellis to create the balcony renovation design drawings.”

The brief for the balcony renovation was very specific, WSDG had to improve safety, sightlines and comfort, without decreasing the seat count. “Avalon was clear that those balcony seats often make the difference between a break-even show and a profitable one,” Joshua explained. “We could not simply go in and widen the very narrow and uncomfortable existing seats or remove and replace risers to increase our viewing angle over the balcony rail without making up for any lost seats. A huge aid to this effort was that we got approval to remove the original concrete projection booth, which freed up valuable seating.”

For better ergonomics, the balcony’s seats needed to be widened as much as possible and positioned to be focused on-stage performers, rather than a screen. Certain railings that obstructed the view of some seats needed to be replaced with better railings and improved lighting for visibility. The balcony’s walkways also needed better tread depth and tread visibility, as well as height consistency. Finally, all the renovations needed to be aesthetically consistent with the Avalon Theatre’s beloved art deco motif.

Joshua and his team worked closely with Al and Jessica paying respect to the theatres aesthetic character. The rear of the balcony needed particular attention. The projection booth’s walls, door and floor were removed, as well as dimmer racks and exhaust ducts. Loudspeakers and other elements were relocated or reappointed.

WSDG helped to match the new balcony’s tin ceiling to the existing tin ceiling, and The Avalon Foundation selected the new chairs and carpet to enhance and harmonise the old. In the end, the team succeeded in increasing the newly designed balcony’s seat count to 219, while increasing the width of each seat by two inches and maintaining the excellent acoustics.

“We were able to create a new balcony experience that is a quantum leap from what was there,” Joshua said. “It’s more comfortable, with better sightlines and more safety features.”

WSDG covered much more than the technical improvements, but their team evaluated these needs and provided recommendations for a way forward.

The theatre’s contracted technicians, Mid-South Audio (MSA) took the WSDG plan and fine-tuned it prior to a final purchase. “The Avalon is a venue used for a wide variety of applications from rock concerts to theatrical productions, to film screenings and community events, so the lighting upgrade needed to have the flexibility to meet all of these demands,” Al explained. “With these demands, MSA worked to find the best professional LED lighting products to meet those needs and provide the adaptability to handle all of the various uses of the space.”

The final lighting configuration consists of 12 Elation Colour 5 Profile LED Lekos mounted on the FOH truss and bars, three Elation Satura Profile LED moving heads on the FOH Truss, 18, Elation SIXPAR 200 LED pars mounted on Electrics one and two on stage, five Elation SIXBAR 1000 LED bars mounted on Electric three on stage for curtain lighting, six Elation Artiste Davinci’s mounted on Electrics one and two on stage, while two Elation CUEPIX BLINDER WW4 are mounted on movable pipe and base on stage for audience blinders as needed. Two Antari Z-380 Fazers are also provided on stage for Haze to showcase lighting effects.

“The LED pars and bars are mounted on three electrics above the stage and provide the ability to make the stage virtually any colour wash including a UV effect for theatrical performances. These electrics can then be lowered for band performances to allow for visible colour chases and other effects on stage,” Al said. “The LED Lekos are mounted on the main FOH truss and a couple on each side FOH bar for a full wash of the stage with the ability to adjust the colour temperature as needed for various events. These Lekos also have the ability to do a full range of colours for theatrical effects and have shutters for framing in areas of the stage. The FOH truss can be lowered from the ceiling over the balcony with an electric winch for ease of access. The LED moving head’s consist of six spot fixtures mounted on two electrics above the stage and have the ability to be placed on the floor of the stage as well. These lights provide the lighting designer with the ability to easily illuminate different areas of the stage and provided various gobo and other moving light effects for various performances. Three additional LED moving heads are mounted on the FOH truss – these are profile fixtures with framing shutters. These lights allow the lighting operator to spot any area on the stage without having to go up to the balcony and manually adjust a light. The system includes two blinder LED fixtures, which are used exclusively for standing room rock shows.”

Lighting control is handled by an Avolites Quartz lighting console with an Avolites Titan Mobile Wing. “The Avolites console is very user-friendly and has the ability to store multiple shows and configurations for all the different uses of the venue. It’s also a commonly accepted board with travelling bands and theatre companies, allowing easy integration of pre-programmed lighting shows.”

The Avalon Foundation can now fully embrace its role as an economic and cultural catalyst in its community, the importance of which is not lost on the team at WSDG.

“The stewards of The Avalon Theatre really care and are so passionate about their charge, they’re doing an amazing job for their community. We at WSDG could not be prouder to be involved. With careful planning and a team that really cares, including a devoted contractor, Willow Construction and Architect Jake Laureska, these kinds of impactful changes really are possible on a large scale.” Joshua concluded.