What was once an empty auto repair shop has now been converted into an expansive theater and dance rehearsal space by Light Opera Works, a local musical theater company.
The old garage, 76 foot by 48 foot in size, was leased to the non-profit theater company for $1 a year.
One of the founders of the 32-year-old theater company, who is a Rotary member, was given the opportunity to use the garage by a fellow Rotary member.
During a meeting in 2011, Rotary member Brian Moak, who is also one of the owners of Duxler Auto Care Centers, announced that he wanted to rent out the space to a non-profit arts organization, according to Bridget McDonough, one of the founders of Light Opera Works.
"I just drove right up after that meeting, and I took a look through the window and thought, 'Oh my God this is what we've always wanted,'" McDonough said.
Landing the right space
McDonough says a large rehearsal space is difficult to come by for theater and dance companies, and before converting the garage, Light Opera Works held rehearsals in places such as the basement of an old church and a children's center.
The $125,000 conversion came complete with a sprung dance floor and was made possible with the help of board members and patrons who raised the funds.
The sizeable sprung dance floor is a better fit for the musical theater company. With an under layer of thin springs, the floor absorbs shocks and reduces the rate of injury.
"This is a huge improvement for us," said Kyle Dougan, production associate for Light Opera Works. "We have lots of dancers and working on a concrete floor for dancers is painful."
Easy access for props, people
Before moving to the new space, dancers pretended to lift each other up because the ceiling wasn’t high enough in other rehearsal spaces.
With the huge garage doors, props can also be easily transported in and out of the building. The handicapped accessible space also makes it easier for older patrons or actors to visit.
"We used to be at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston, and it was three flights of stairs, a little bit harder to get up," Dougan said.
So far, Light Opera Works has rented the space out to a ballet teacher, a Zumba instructor, a jazz band, a children's theater company and a country line-dancing group.
"Dance companies have a really hard time finding a safe space with a really big floor," McDonough said.
Sharing the space
McDonough encourages other companies to reach out to Light Opera Works if they're in need of rehearsal space. Non-profit organizations get a special rate of $30 an hour, while for-profits may rent the space for $35 an hour.
"We're providing services for the community," Dougan said. "It helps us as a company to thrive, and it also helps smaller organizations to thrive as well."
He is excited about the possibilities of allowing other groups to use the center, which will help the company integrate within the Wilmette community.
"We're an Evanston-based company, but now we've got our roots in both places," Dougan said. "It's the best of both worlds."
The Light Opera Works Rehearsal Center is located at 516 Fourth Street. For more information, contact Kyle Dougan at: 847-920-5360 ext. 13, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.