|Paramount School of Performing Arts|
By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Aurora's Paramount Theatre plans to expand its entertainment footprint through opening the Paramount School of Performing Arts and staging original theatrical productions at a renovated Copley Theatre.
"The Paramount has already made a major impact on the city of Aurora," Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin said, in helping announce the plans during a press conference on Jan. 25. "For example, since starting its Broadway series in 2011, the number of patrons has grown from 52,000 to more than 320,000 [a year]. The addition of a new school of performing arts will provide new opportunities for Aurora's youth and excitement to our city."
The new school, set to open in January 2019, will be located in the former Waubonsee Community College building located directly adjacent to the Paramount Theatre. The school will be the anchor tenant in the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center, the official name of the new 80,000-square-foot development that will also include a restaurant along with 38 affordable, loft-style apartments for working artists.
|Rendering of Paramount School of Performing Arts studio theater by Vara Design|
Also part of the Paramount's $4.5 million fundraising campaign – fittingly called Act 2 – is the modernization of the Paramount's 173-seat sister stage, the Copley Theatre, which is located in North Island Center across the street from the Paramount Theatre. Plans include the replacement of carpeting and seats in the 1981 Copley Theatre, updating technical equipment, expanding restrooms, new heating and air conditioning systems and remodeling backstage and dressing areas.
The Paramount plans to use the updated space for smaller shows as well as a place to debut original productions. Along with those projects, plans are to replace all 1,888 seats in the Paramount Theatre, which first opened in 1931.
The fundraising campaign kicked off with a $2.5 million donation from the Dunham Fund.
"The [Paramount's] Broadway series has propelled our area into the limelight," said Wendy Hirsch, chairperson of the Dunham Fund, in presenting the donation to the Paramount Theatre. "And what an impact the Paramount is having on Aurora's downtown. The new Arts Center and the School of Performing Arts in particular will be another step toward improving lives in and around Aurora."
She said the Dunham Fund "is extremely proud to support the Paramount's capital campaign with this lead gift."
"We encourage everyone to support the campaign to the best of their ability and thank you to the entire Paramount organization for your willingness to push the envelop and for your tireless efforts to continue to change the face of Aurora's downtown," Hirsch said.
Former Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner chairs the Paramount Theatre's Act 2 capital fundraising campaign. Weisner called the Paramount the "cultural soul of Aurora," and he spoke enthusiastically about the project and what it will mean for downtown Aurora.
"I've been around for a while and I've seen a lot of good things happen in this community," Weisner said. "But I have to say that I'm more excited today than I think I ever have been about the prospects for the future for this community."
To donate to the Act 2 capital fundraising campaign, go to: www.paramountaurora.com/support.