Weber Center officially opened in downtown La Crosse

By Joycelyn Fish

Campus Life Editor

Along the banks of the Mississippi River sits a new home for both the La Crosse Community Theatre (LCT) and Viterbo University in their partnership to create the Weber Center for the Performing Arts.

The Weber Center officially opened Saturday, Jan. 19, featuring a ribbon cutting and gala, with a public open house on Sunday, Jan. 20. Students, faculty and staff from Viterbo and the La Crosse community helped staff and organize the events.

Emily Matthees, a senior arts administration and stage management major from Rochester, Minn., was the stage manager for the opening gala and got to see the progress of the theater from groundbreaking to the final product. She is excited for all of the opportunities the new space provides.

“There are so many cool gadgets for a stage manager, and I’m so happy. All the things I’ve ever wanted are here” Matthees said.

Designed by Vantage Architects Inc., the Weber Center has been a joint effort between Viterbo and LCT since fall 2011. The 30,000 square foot building features a black box with seating for 100 people, classrooms, make-up/dressing rooms, scene shop, costume shop, administrative offices and a 450 seat theater.

“It far exceeded expectations in terms of beauty and the intimacy of the space. There is not a bad seat; every seat is like you’re on stage,” Viterbo President Rick Artman said.

President Artman has been a part of the planning process since the beginning of conversations between Viterbo and LCT. The Fine Arts Center (FAC) was in need of an addition, including a midsize theatre for performances that are too big for the black box and too small for the main stage. With the news that LCT had plans to build a new theater, the board of trustees at Viterbo, the School of Fine Arts faculty and LCT board decided that a partnership and collaborative fundraising efforts between the two entities would be possible. They built the blueprint of governance similar to the joint effort of the Viterbo Mathy Center and the Boys and Girls Club in 2005/2006.

“Having the opportunity to work in a midsize space is awesome. Plus, we are getting out of the little Viterbo bubble, and I think it’s important to take the work outside, and this is kind of a way to do it,” Matthees said.

Named after Don and Roxanne Weber who donated the land and were major benefactors for the project, the Weber Center has a board made up of seven members, three from LCT, three from Viterbo, and a board president. Michael Ranscht, director of the FAC, Sr. Mary Ann Gschwind, FSPA, and President Artman represent Viterbo as part of the board.

The new building acts as an anchor for the arts district downtown with the Pump House and La Crosse Center. It will also act as a strong economic factor for hotels, restaurants, and other businesses, benefiting the community and, in turn, Viterbo.

“I come from the belief that the arts are really important for the vitality of the community, and the quality of life in the community is built off of a thriving arts program,” Artman said. “We think it’s really important to celebrate the arts and find opportunities for people of all ages.”

“The arts are really vital in La Crosse.” Matthees added. “It’s another home for them and a home that is so tied with the community, the downtown, and the riverfront area.”

Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” is the opening performance for LCT Jan. 25-27 and Jan. 31-Feb. 3 at the Weber Center. Viterbo will have a few more months to prepare for their first show on the new stage as A Chorus Line is scheduled for April 19-21 and April 26-28.

Some Viterbo theater classes are already being held at the Weber Center this semester with more opportunities as the years go by. From art shows, weddings, corporate events and even VU After Dark activities, it has potential beyond fine arts.

“We could even tap into the marketing, graphic design, and education departments for internships,” Artman said. “It’s really a laboratory for many students, not just our performance students.”

Overall, both Matthees and Artman are thrilled about the positive reaction and feedback from the La Crosse and Viterbo communities.

“I think my favorite part about this is walking around and hearing how excited people are,” Matthees stated.

“It’s been a joy to work with the community theater and I’ve been very pleased with the cooperation between the LCT and the School of Fine Arts,” Artman added. “[Students, faculty and staff] should feel ownership in it. They should be proud of it. It’s a community asset as well as the university’s.”

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