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After years of renovations, theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin reopens

The Hillside Theater in Spring Green now features improved lighting and sound systems, accessibility and live-stream capabilities

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The newly renovated theater space at the Taliesin compound features a colorful, well-known curtain
The 100 red-cushioned seats in the Hillside Theater will be open once again for shows starting Saturday after years of renovations to the facility on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green. Photo courtesy the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Emily Butler from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation says a lot of people wrongfully assume the Taliesin compound in Spring Green is only about architecture.

The Taliesin Fellowship celebrated all the arts. The compound’s Hillside Theater featured dance, music and film performances going back nearly a century. Lavish shows included custom-designed costumes. On one day of the week, the public could spend 50 cents to see a movie with a coffee by the fire.

The 100 red-cushioned seats in the Hillside Theater will be open once again for shows starting Saturday after years of renovations.

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“We don’t think of Taliesin as a traditional house museum that needs to be preserved in amber so that no one can use it,” Butler said this week on WPR’s “Wisconsin Today.” “We preserve these buildings so they can continue to be used as they were always intended to be used.”

The theater modernized by upgrading its lighting and sound systems, and adding green rooms. Butler, the associate vice president of strategic partnerships and initiatives at the foundation, said there now is an accessible bathroom and path to get to the theater.

“The most exciting thing about the project to me personally is that we are able to make some accessibility upgrades,” she said.

The theater added live-streaming capabilities as well that will expand who is able to enjoy shows. Lecturers and performers might want to take advantage of the new capabilities to reach larger audiences, Butler said. 

“Not everyone can travel to Spring Green, Wisconsin, and see a performance in the theater, although we would love for everyone to be able to do that,” she said.

Seats in the Hillside Theater are covered with sheets during renovations.
The Hillside Theater went through years of renovations before its planned reopening June 8, 2024. Photo courtesy the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

The $1.1 million project started in 2019 and paused at times because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Butler said the project relied on grants from the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures program and other groups.

Saturday’s reopening concert will feature Third Coast Percussion, a Grammy Award-winning group from Chicago. Butler said Third Coast Percussion is an eclectic group willing to experiment and push boundaries — a pioneer to music like Wright to architecture.

“We’re really excited to have them back,” Butler said. “I think they really enjoy performing in that intimate and very beautiful space.”

Butler described the theater as a mixture of thrust- and black-box-style theater. Taliesin itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of eight Wright sites that Butler said UNESCO has recognized in the United States.

The theater’s curtain is an attraction on its own. The design was based on Wright’s sketch of Taliesin and includes a representation of the Wisconsin River, Butler said. 

“Truly phenomenal,” she said.

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