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Arts Beat: Wisconsin Union Theater seeks to replace its dowdy lounge
A room with a view
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The lounge, seen in a draft rendering, would reach north.
The lounge, seen in a draft rendering, would reach north.

The UW Memorial Union may soon get a whole new lakeside space. Union Theater is looking to expand with a new lounge.

"Can you imagine, in the spring and fall, when it's a little too cold to sit out on the Terrace, to be inside with a similar beautiful view of the lakefront?" asks Ralph Russo, director of the Union Theater. "Even in winter, students will be able to sit there with a laptop and have this incredible view of Wisconsin's winterscape. It will be a heavily used space."

The existing theater lounge, in the sub-basement, has a number of problems. "It's downstairs, and it's not an especially lovely place to hang out before or after a show," Russo says. "We know that because our customers tell us by not going down there."

Similarly, the enclosed space in front of the theater proper, the glassed-in lobby, is too small for the size of the venue. It's mostly used as a hallway when there are no events.

"It doesn't allow patrons to gather pre, post, and at intermission of events," says Russo. "When we've tried hosting those types of events in other parts of the Union, many people leave."

The current lobby also doesn't allow for concessions and merchandize sales, part of the theater's fiscal future. "The lobby is a budget issue, a space issue and a comfort issue for our patrons," Russo says.

The new theater lounge, at the same level as the current lobby, would reach north, toward the lake, and be faced with windows. It would be open to all Union patrons.

"First and foremost it will serve as a lounge for students and Union members," says Russo. "Frankly I'm most excited about its use as a lounge, and I'm confident it will activate this end of the Union in ways we've not seen before."

On top would be a "Sunset Deck," accessible by stairs. Beneath it, the Hoofers sailing club will get "a significant increase in space," says Russo.

The design team has been working with the Wisconsin Historical Society. Architectural mockups of the lounge date back to 2006, when students voted to approve the Memorial Union Reinvestment Project.

There's been a continuing series of public meetings to share progress and request input. The next will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30, in the Memorial Union.u

The lounge, seen in a draft rendering, would reach north.

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