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Mars Theatre to get wired for the future
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With the building now finished, the Springfield City Council took steps Thursday night to get the nuts and bolts of the Mars Theatre’s interior completed.

Council members approved a change order and purchases for sound, lighting and movie equipment for the facility, which is projected to have an April 25 debut. And they are anxious to get the work done and show off the building.

“I think this is something that is going to benefit the county as a whole,” said council member Kenny Usher.

The bids and change order amount to more than $300,000 worth of improvements to the Mars, and City Manager Brett Bennett estimated the city has put in about $800,000 into renovating the old theater.

Bennett pointed out that the city’s goals for the building have changed along the way.

“We hired the contractor to do the shell, to get the building opened and occupied,” he said.

But after a city council retreat, the focus on the Mars’ future was modified.

“We said, ‘let’s go ahead and do it,’” Bennett added. “This project has changed midstream.”

The original goal was to have a rental facility, Bennett explained, but changing the aspect also led to hiring a theatre director, which the city did in bringing aboard Tommy Deadwyler.

“Neither one of us has built a theater,” Bennett said, “and we’re trying to feel our way through it. It’s been a learning experience.”

The money spent on the sound, lighting and cinema equipment, however, will be for top-notch gear, according to Deadwyler, calling it a 10 on scale of one to 10.

“That is top-of-the-line theatrical lighting,” Bennett added. “It is important to have the performance and the experiences to have people coming back.”

Council members approved a change order of $73,889 from Phillip Kieffer Construction, the firm renovating the Mars, for wiring and cable, along with installing the proscenium, stage steps and sound and lighting booth. They also agreed to $98,557 in sound equipment from Sound Associates, $44,995 for lighting equipment from Television Production Services and $98,345 from Cinevision for movie projection equipment.

“This lighting and sound package is what is going to separate us,” council member Steve Shealy said. “When they walk out after hearing it come out of something like this, that will be the difference.”

As part of the change order, electricians will run the conduit and wiring necessary to hook up the sound, lighting and movie equipment. The technicians for the various apparatus will finish the connections to the equipment terminals.

The amount of wires and cables to run in the change order are substantial, Bennett said, and could take two and a half weeks to install and run through the building. The wiring isn’t so much for electrical power, he said, but rather so the sound, lights and projection equipment can communicate.

Deadwyler said he has worked with Sound Associates in the past and they also helped design the sound system to be installed in the Mars.

“I’ve had a relationship with his company for almost 20 years,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I reached out to them in the beginning. Any time I’ve had a problem in the past, they’ve been there to fix it.”

The movie projection equipment includes a computer to run the movies. A jump drive with the movie will be delivered to the Mars, and there will be a digital “key” that won’t allow the movie to be shown before its prescribed time, Bennett said.

The projector can control the house lighting, the screens and the drapes.

“They’re going to be there the first two or three shows to make sure things go off without a hitch,” Bennett said.

For live shows, a sound engineer will run the board. Deadwyler said he is drawing up a job description for an assistant theatre manager who can manage the operation of a movie on their own. Part of Deadwyler’s mission is to not only find programming and events for the Mars but also to solicit sponsorships and advertisements.

“My hope is to hire someone dependable who can open the place up, run the movie and can close up and go home,” he said. “We want to provide employment. I’ll be there for every single live performance. But we want to be a consistent theater. We want something every weekend.”

Deadwyler also pointed out they could have put in as many as 300 seats for the Mars, but they wanted visitors to be comfortable and not squeezed together.

“It would have been the most miserable 300 seats,” he said. “We really thought it out to make it the best experience we can.”

Bennett also noted that the work on the Mars could enable sponsorship opportunities other entities don’t have.

Council members also discussed disbanding the ad hoc Mars Theatre committee, which was established last year to explore the best way to run the facility. Mayor Barton Alderman said he envisioned that committee to be temporary in its existence.

“The committee did a great job,” he said. “But how long do you maintain a temporary committee?”

Bennett said a citizens group for the Mars, one which supports and advocates for the theatre, could be a benefit.

“Everybody feels we’re moving in the right direction,” Bennett said.

Council members also expressed their gratitude to the Springfield Revitalization Corporation and Gussie Nease for championing the Mars’ cause.

“If it wasn’t for Gussie and the SRC, this wouldn’t have happened,” Bennett said.

Council member Charles Hinely also mentioned how the SRC was the instigator for the ongoing streetscape and the Mars.

“Some of us were skeptical about the theatre from the get-go,” he said. “But when you put the streetscape and the theatre together, it makes sense.”

One of the reasons in bringing the Mars back to life is to bring people back to downtown Springfield, especially in the evening.

“I think it’s going to be a catalyst for Springfield,” Deadwyler said. “Is it going to be something splendid? Absolutely. We’re putting all these things in place to make a better downtown. This is one of the steps.”