Theatre Guild plans for open air riverside stage

Mike Paulus

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Left: First Avenue and adjacent Chippewa River shoreline. Right: proposed outdoor amphitheater with overhauled riverbank and street reroutings. Click to embiggen.

Tucked nonchalantly into a conceptual drawing on page 22 of the Eau Claire Waterways Plan you’ll find an outdoor theatre nestled into the banks of the Chippewa River, right next to where the Grand Avenue footbridge connects to the western shoreline. The concept is scarcely mentioned anywhere else in the plan, but as you may remember, the city is planning an overhaul of the riverbank stretching from East Grand Avenue to Lake Street, right in front of the newly expanded Justice Center jail and courthouse complex. This is one possible feature of that makeover.

Headquartered in the Grand Theatre just around the corner, the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild is behind the project, having approached the city through parks and rec. director Phil Fieber. According to CVTG Executive Director Ann Sessions, “The plan is to create a tiered amphitheater that would complement planned improvements to the area, as a pedestrian mall is added when First and Second Avenues are realigned to accommodate the new jail.”

In addition to Theatre Guild productions and educational workshops, the stage could be available to the public for concerts, neighborhood activities, and special events. Sessions says, “The waterways commission had been looking at ways to provide more interactions between people and the shoreline. An outdoor space [like this] could encourage greater use and appreciation of the area.”

If the current draft of the Waterways Plan is approved, the Eau Claire City Council will eventually need to vote on building the new theater into the riverbank. If that happens, the Theatre Guild will need to raise funds to purchase sound, lighting, and staging equipment.

If this happens, it’ll be a fantastic addition to the Chippewa River’s growing roster of riverside entertainment venues – the only one specifically geared towards theatre.