The stage is nearly set for a celebration 200 years in the making.
On Friday night, thousands will descend on the University of Virginia’s Lawn for a historic Bicentennial Launch Celebration commemorating the 200th anniversary of the laying of the University’s cornerstone on Oct. 6, 1817.
The celebration will include musical performances by both special guests – like “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr., R&B singer Andra Day and rock band the Goo Goo Dolls – and UVA students and faculty members – including former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, the University Singers, the Cavalier Marching Band, and many others. Interspersed with these performances, a special projection mapping show will transform the buildings of the Academical Village, visually illustrating some of the many extraordinary stories in UVA’s 200-year history.
Staff members across the University have worked hard to prepare the Lawn for the celebration, turning the UNESCO World Heritage site into a high-tech multimedia stage while carefully preserving all of the historic and architectural elements that make it such a unique setting for any show.
Here’s a closer look at these preparations and the Lawn’s transformation.
Many performers will take the stage from the Rotunda itself, where a curtain stands ready for their entrance.
There are two main stages. The largest, shown here, is directly in front of the Rotunda and comprised of a central 60-by-48 foot stage and two 28-by-40 foot wings.
“It’s larger than anything we have set up before,” UVA Facilities Management senior manager Ryan Taylor said of the main stage.
A second stage, about halfway down the Lawn between Pavilions IX and X, is 24-by-24 feet. These stages will host most of the more than 800 performers entertaining the audience on Friday.
About 20,000 guests are expected, roughly equivalent to the number of attendees on the Lawn during Final Exercises each May.
However, Taylor said that setup for Friday’s event has been “significantly more complex” than Final Exercises, both because of the number of performances and because classes are still in session.
“We have been focused on safety and on managing the flow of people around the site as we set up,” Taylor said.
Part of the challenge was managing the extra power needed for the numerous musical acts and video productions. To fuel the show, Taylor said that the University will supply about 2,600 amps of power, which is a significant amount even when compared with other large-scale concerts. He emphasized that the outlay of power would not impact electricity in buildings around the Lawn or any other buildings on Grounds.
Guest stars like Leslie Odom Jr., Andra Day, the Ingramettes, the Martha Graham Dance Company and the Martin Luther King Community Choir of Charlottesville will join UVA faculty members and students on the stage above, as well as famous alumni like Katie Couric and Jason George, and speakers including Gov. Terry McAuliffe and UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan.
Technology firm Paintscaping Inc., partnered with lighting and design from Filament Productions, will produce the projection mapping show, which Paintscaping Inc. President Philippe Bergeron said might be “the most visible and complex job we have ever done.”
Four projectors, all relying on a 3-D model of the Rotunda constructed from hundreds of photos taken this summer, will animate some of the most significant moments in UVA history. Additionally, eight video screens will show both live performances and messages from some of the University’s best-known alumni.
Throughout, University staff will be working with security personnel and production crews to ensure a smooth and safe show.
Tyler said that his staff is installing 24 additional 1,000-watt lights around the Lawn and its alleyways to make sure that guests can see well as they enter and exit the Lawn.
The University has also published enhanced security protocols in advance of the event, including a new clear-bag policy.