NWU Receives $1 Million for Theatre Renovation Project
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Sunderland Foundation Grant-McDonald Theatre

Phase one of the McDonald Theatre renovation will include new seats and updated seating bowl to include better lighting and accessibility.

Sunderland Foundation Grant-McDonald Theatre

A $1 million dollar lead grant from the Sunderland Foundation raises the curtain on a three-phase theatre renovation to include new seats, stage, entry plaza, lobby and upgraded mechanical systems.

Sunderland Foundation Grant-McDonald Theatre
Sunderland Foundation Grant-McDonald Theatre

A $1 million grant has raised the curtain on Nebraska Wesleyan University’s next facility renovation project.

Thanks to a $1 million grant from The Sunderland Foundation, plans are now underway to begin the first of three phases to renovate McDonald Theatre — home to one of the university’s most popular and successful academic programs.

“Nebraska Wesleyan is a community that is thriving,” said Nebraska Wesleyan University President Darrin Good. “Fueled by the momentum of the Bold Designs campaign and the recent completion of Acklie Hall of Science, we are delighted to turn our attention now to McDonald Theatre.”

“The theatre renovation has become among the highest priorities for our learning facilities due to the significant number of students and community members who will benefit from this project,” Good added. “We’re so very grateful for The Sunderland Foundation for sharing our vision and helping us turn it into a reality.”

Built in 1979, McDonald Theatre is a 300-seat auditorium located inside Elder Memorial Theatre Center. At the time of construction, NWU Theatre had approximately 24 theatre majors. Today, the department is one of NWU’s most popular programs with over 110 majors. Students perform 50 productions a year that draw approximately 17,500 audience members. 

The first phase of the McDonald Theatre renovation project includes replacement of the theatre seats with slightly wider, more comfortable seats to match the standards of a modern theatre. The first phase also includes an updated, reshaped seating bowl to include better lighting in the aisles and improved accessibility for patrons. 

Other phases of the renovation will include a new, suspended stage to better accommodate more intricate transitions of actors, scenery and props. The stage will allow more room to maneuver and give students and professors further creative vision. The project also includes a new entry plaza, renovated lobby and restrooms and upgrades to the building’s mechanical systems. 

Good said a renovated performance facility will raise the profile of theatre education in Nebraska. This fall, OnStage Blognamed NWU Theatre one of the Top 30 BFA in Acting/Performance programs in the country alongside The Julliard School and UCLA. Last May, OnStage Blogranked Nebraska Wesleyan as the best undergraduate theatre program in Nebraska.

“Not only will the renovation allow our students to further thrive and become successful professionals, but it will be a cultural asset to the Lincoln community,” said Good.

Nebraska Wesleyan’s relationship with The Sunderland Foundation dates back 46 years. The foundation invested in Elder Memorial Theatre Center’s original construction, and, more recently, in renovations to Pioneer Hall. It also contributed significantly to the construction of Acklie Hall of Science, which opened in January.