One Year in Reflection: Prior Performing Arts Center at the College of Holy Cross



When the Prior Performing Arts Center at Holy Cross, a state-of-the-art facility, opened its doors nearly one year ago for public tours, it was clear its arrival marked a new milestone for the arts at Holy Cross and the surrounding community of Worcester, Massachusetts.

This impressive, 84,000-square-foot project—with a construction cost of $110 million—boasts a concert hall, theatre, scene shop, rehearsal spaces, recording and costume design studios, and more.

The Prior Performing Arts Center was a collaborative effort between the College of the Holy Cross and a team of talented architects, designers, manufacturers, and consultants. The team included architect Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Dimeo Construction, Fisher Dachs Associates, Inc. theatre consultants, Nitsch Engineering, Robert Silman Associates, and Transsolar Klima Engineering, with Wenger Corporation and J.R. Clancy providing and installing much of the advanced stage equipment required for seamless performances. The goal was to create a facility that would provide a dynamic and exceptionally versatile platform for students, faculty, and visiting artists to showcase their talents and engage with a range of art forms.

The Prior Performing Arts Center offers an extensive array of spaces and equipment designed to enable students to hone their talents, unleash their creativity, and engage in collaborative and innovative projects. With open access to these spaces and many resources to foster growth, Holy Cross distinguishes itself as an exceptional choice for aspiring student artists. In nearly every room at the Prior Performing Arts Center, you can find cutting-edge tools to enhance sound quality, striking visuals, ease of use, and versatility to accommodate a wide range of uses for the space.

Supporting Incredible Performances

At the heart of the Prior Performing Arts Center is the Luth Concert Hall. This magnificent performance hall was designed to captivate audiences and provide an immersive experience. With its exceptional acoustics, cutting-edge audiovisual technology, and a seating capacity that accommodates a large audience, the hall sets the stage for a wide range of performances including theatre productions, musical concerts, dance recitals, and more.

A custom Diva® acoustical shell is a standout feature of this space. This beautiful, full-stage shell creates acoustics for optimum on-stage sound and projection to the audience. “With our Diva shell, the acoustics in Luth Concert Hall are amazing,” says Rosie Cruz, Director of Production at Holy Cross. “Touring artists remark how live the space is. Aesthetically, the shell is stunning—matching the hall’s interior and providing a beautiful feeling of being immersed, both visually and aurally.” With three on-stage clouds, sound does not get lost or trapped above the stage or in the loft but is sent toward the spectators. In the front of house, an additional cloud and ten transform banners were installed to elevate the overall sound quality and enhance projection toward the audience.

In addition to a beautiful look and superior sound quality, the shell also offers versatility and flexibility when it comes to set up and storage.“We can easily strike the shell in less than four hours,” Cruz says. “The towers are relatively easy to move and reconfigure, especially for their 20’ height, and they store in a compact 13’ x 7’ footprint.”

Products that Transform Spaces

Transform® motorized acoustical banners are used to enhance the acoustics of performance spaces. These motorized banners offer variable acoustic capabilities, allowing users to adjust sound absorption and reflection levels quickly. With adjustable spacing options, users can customize the distance between the banner and the wall, as well as the gap between fabric layers. In the Lovelette Ensemble Room, these versatile banners, integrated with a motion-control system for ease of use, help transform the space to meet the needs of each performance. The banners optimize the acoustics for each event, providing an enhanced experience for any rehearsal—or audience—as this technology allows the space to also be used for performances.

In the Alden Trust Performance Studio, primarily a rehearsal studio with a stunning view of the city of Worcester and the Blackstone Valley, track-and-drape systems provide versatility and flexibility for performers and stage designers. The track allows for smooth movement of drapes, enabling the room to be easily adapted to different staging requirements. Whether it’s creating separate sections, concealing certain areas, or adapting acoustics, the track-and-drape system offers endless possibilities for customization.

Safe and Effective Motion Control

Other impressive additions to the Prior Performing Arts Center include a range of stage offerings that are designed to produce professional-level performances. A key factor in creating these performances is precise and controlled movement of stage elements. The underhung counterweight sets with FrontLoader™ arbors ensure efficient and accurate movement, while the PowerAssist® hoist facilitates smooth lifting operations. To facilitate the movement of heavy stage equipment, the grid trap and hoisting beam were installed with a trolley, making backstage operations more manageable. Additionally, a fire-curtain system offers a crucial safety feature, providing protection in case of emergencies.

Control systems top off this suite of products to easily manage the complex technical aspects of the performance space. The installation includes two motorized control consoles (MCC) specifically designed for managing the banners and rigging. These consoles are conveniently mounted on the wall, offering intuitive control and precise handling of stage elements. “Our rigging systems—both motorized and counterweight—are sleek and offer a visually captivating design,” Cruz says. “The technological advances for safety are impressive.” With the MCC consoles in place, performances and rehearsals can run smoothly, ensuring seamless operation and optimal control during every production.

All Systems Go

At the Prior Performing Arts Center, the design team worked diligently to ensure cutting-edge technology and equipment was utilized throughout the facility. From the acoustically superior shell to the adaptable track-and-drape system, the center has become a showplace for how high-tech, advanced products available for performing-arts venues today—combined with the talent and creativity students and other artists bring to the stage—can raise the bar for performing arts on campus.

“The collaboration between all of the design team members for this project truly helped create a theatre system that ‘sings’ for us,” Cruz quips.

About the Author
Whitney B. Winkels is the Senior Marketing Communications Manager for Wenger Corporation. She joined Wenger Corporation in 2016 as the Performing Arts Marketing Manager and helped lead marketing and communications efforts for the Wenger Corporation’s Wenger and J.R. Clancy brands. As the Senior Marketing Communications Manager, she oversees Wenger’s Music Education, Performing Arts, and Athletics marketing initiatives.