By Jada Butler
The chair of LIU’s Board of Trustees made a generous donation to the university to renovate the Hillwood Commons Recital Hall. Renamed the Krasnoff Theater after donors Eric Krasnoff and his wife Sandra, the intimate space has reopened this semester.
The Krasnoffs have been steady long-time contributors to the university, but this is the first time there has been a specific named gift, Krasnoff said. They chose to renovate the lecture hall for many reasons. “It’s an ideal complimentary space to the larger Tilles Center, that’s about 1,800 seats, Hillwood now is just over 500 [seats]. Many of the different types of acts are suitable for that sized space but maybe not for the larger stage,” Krasnoff said, explaining why he chose to fund the renovation of the theater.
“The space was also very old, tired and awkward. It’s going to be a real desirable thing now, for the ambitious expansion of performing arts that the [Tilles Center] director (Bill Biddle) is putting on,” he continued.
Krasnoff has been on LIU’s board of trustees for more than 25 years and chairperson since 2013, and a jazz lover for life. He and his wife selected the opening weekend performances in the renovated theater. On Friday, Sept. 28, the Krasnoff Theater welcomed Jon Batiste, a jazz musician commonly known as the bandleader on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” as the first performance in the space. Helen Sung, a renowned jazz pianist, performed the following night, accompanied by a tap dancer.
“It won’t predominantly be jazz,” Krasnoff assured, although that is what he chose for the opening night. Future performances and events scheduled in the Krasnoff Theater will be decided by the director of the Tilles Center, William Biddle, and from student surveys to bring more acts that would interest students, according to Krasnoff.
The theater is embedded into the university to be of use for students as well. The Tilles Center requires many of the acts that come to perform at Tilles to do workshops open to both Post students and local high school students as well. Krasnoff said the Tilles Center is doing much to bring traction to the space.
“Tilles is doing a better job on social media, advising students of what’s coming up. We offer discounted tickets to virtually everything trying to bring [students] in. The workshops with the artists adds more interest as well – and just getting the quality and bringing acts that are of interest,” he said.
Krasnoff grew up surrounded by the arts and fostered a love for it, which is why he chose to give back. “My parents at a very young age would take me to the ballet and other arts things. You don’t really realize how much you learn when you’re so young and you see all of this. So when I grew up, in college, I realized I do love the arts,” Krasnoff explained. “I was lucky to go to school in New York City at Columbia [University]. Pretty much everything that you are interested in is at your fingertips if you know how to get on the subway and find it.”
Krasnoff is a supporter of the arts. “It’s one of the areas that’s underserved throughout school systems, technically the public school systems, and one that people may not necessarily be exposed to unless it’s made available, it’s nearby and it’s interesting,” Krasnoff said. “I think the arts provide great education to people, the themes that go through arts, whether its dance, drama performances, lectures – which we will have here as well – and performances that provide an insight, a slant on the world in our life that makes people question some of their beliefs, get a deeper understanding of themselves and their role in the world,” he continued.
In the renovated theater, the audience can see that rather than being tiered and steep, there is a steady pitch to the auditorium. The new seating is in a curved arrangement to fit the way the stage has been reconfigured; as a result, the capacity increased from 485 seats to 508 seats. “Very comfortable seats with lumbar support in them,” Krasnoff joked.
In addition to new seats, the updates include a new signature entrance opening to Hillwood Commons; the house lighting was replaced with energy efficient LED lighting; the stage configuration was enlarged and replaced with a spring wood floor (suitable for dancing) and a permanently installed vinyl floor; a line array speaker system (which focuses the sound directly to the seating area) with enclosed subwoofers under the stage to reduce echoes and other acoustic problems; drywall and insulation over the concrete walls to change the appearance of the theatre and improve acoustics; a high definition projection system; and a proscenium arch (stage extension) to transform the look from a lecture hall to a theatre.
“Is there a word for more than up to date? Not outdated, in-dated. Advanced,” Krasnoff said, describing the new technology. Planning for the renovation began in February 2018, according to William Biddle, director of Tilles Center. “We were looking to make the space a first-class event space that could be used for a variety of student and community events,” he said. “We wanted to make sure the theater was comfortable, versatile and accessible.”
Roy Fergus, director of facilities services, said the renovation project began in July 2018 and was completed by September 2018, just in time for the opening show on September 28. The Krasnoff Theater space has been used in the past for student events, such as Convocation, Open Houses and the Best of High School Journalism Awards Day.
Biddle said the theatre will present “many different types of performances ranging from small theatrical and dance performances, to speakers, to emerging contemporary performers in various genres to films.” He is also excited to expand performances by students in the theater. “I am always looking for suggestions and encourage students to give us ideas,” he said.