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The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is a performing arts complex built in 1969 and named after Herman and Ellnora Krannert who together donated $21 million upon completion. Max Abramovitz was the complex's architect with Jo Mielziner as theatre consultant and Cyril Harris as acoustician. Krannert Center contains six performance spaces housing approximately 160 events per year, which can hold over 4,000 people a night. 

Located on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, the Center brings together students from the theatre, dance and music departments by providing facilities to practice and perform throughout the academic year. Other than being a learning facility, the Center is also open to the public and constructs outreach with many local organizations in the Champaign-Urbana area. Community members cannot only enjoy performances, but also eat at Intermezzo Café, socialize at Stage 5 Bar, purchase gifts at Promenade or even volunteer time as a community volunteer usher.


Herman and Ellnora Krannert 

“For many years, Mrs. Krannert and I have had a major interest in the University, and we feel that it is a privilege to contribute to my Alma Mater to enlarge and to improve the cultural facilities for future students. We chose the Center for the Performing Arts because we are convinced that education through participation in culture is one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences people can enjoy — and, in these complex times, a most needed one.” – Herman Krannert

Herman Charles Krannert graduated from the University of Illinois in 1912 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. In 1925 he founded the Inland Container Corporation, which is the world’s third largest manufacturer of packaging materials. Inland was instrumental in developing corrugated cardboard and a waxing process to waterproof cardboard as to use instead of wood for shipping crates. Mr. Krannert received five honorary degrees from various Midwestern schools in law, administration and humanities. He died in Clearwater, FL on February 24, 1972.

Ellnora Decker Krannert graduated from Brenau College in Gainesville, GA with a degree in music. Mrs. Krannert’s interests included collecting rare editions of the classics, French furniture, 18th Century porcelain, and paintings. Some pieces from Mrs. Krannert’s original collection have been displayed in the Krannert Art Museum. Mrs. Krannert also received five honorary degrees from five colleges in law, music, humanities and the arts. She died two years after Mr. Krannert in Indianapolis, IN on July 6, 1974.

The Center is just one of the many developments the Krannerts envisioned; most of which are located in the Midwest to encourage the advancement of learning. Other popular gifts include: Indiana University’s Medical Arts Center, Purdue University’s Krannert Building, Purdue University’s Graduate School of Industrial Administration, University of Evansville’s Krannert Hall of Fine Arts, Indiana Central College’s Krannert Hall, Indianapolis Methodist Hospital’s Cardiovascular Wing, Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Krannert Pavilion, and Marion County General Hospital’s Heart Research Institute. After conclusion of the University of Illinois’s Krannert Art Museum in 1961 (which the Krannert’s donated $300,000 towards construction) they decided to make their last gift in the form of a performing arts center for the University of Illinois.


The Building

Abramovitz, who also designed the Philharmonic Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center, designed Krannert Center both as a practical training facility and enjoyable space for patrons to view and participate in performances year round. At the base of the Center is Level 2, which is home to rehearsal rooms for opera, choral groups, orchestra, dance and theatre, scenery and costume shops, departmental offices, green rooms and a large loading dock. Each rehearsal room was created to mimic designated theatres (i.e. the Orchestra and Choral rehearsal rooms are the same size and shape as the Great Hall’s stage, and the Drama Rehearsal Room is the same size and shape as the Playhouse stage). This allows performers to rehearse in practically the same space as they will eventually perform.

Krannert Center covers two city blocks, or ten acres of land, and sits three terraces high above street level. The four main theatres stretch even higher with the Foellinger Great Hall at 76-feet high, Tryon Festival Theatre at 97-feet high, Colwell Playhouse at 92-feet high, and Studio Theatre. All four theatres are connected by the lobby, which was made to hold every patron if all four theatres sold out on a given night (approximately 4,000 people).

Former University of Illinois President Henry, along with the Krannerts, announced the construction of The Center on July 24, 1964. The land used for the design was original occupied by private residences and business, but was prime real estate being so close to campus. After acquiring 44 parcels of land, including the right to California Street dividing Goodwin and Mathews, total land acquisition cost was $2,141,895. The Krannerts originally donated $16 million, but increased the donation to $21 million as to see his original design succeed as a whole. On April 20, 1969 the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts was completed and dedicated. Shortly after, the Krannerts attended their only two performances at The Center: April 19th they saw a joint performance of the Philadelphia Philharmonic and the University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra in the Foellinger Great Hall, and on April 20th a Shozo Sato original Kabuki Dance Concert in the Colwell Playhouse.



The Lobby

As previously stated, the lobby was created to comfortably house up to 4,000 patrons, which is the approximate capacity for all four theatres. The lobby itself is an entrance to each theatre and houses many offices for faculty and staff, but also includes various furniture and art objects for patrons’ enjoyment.

The Krannerts’ attention to detail stands out when taking in the lobby’s Italian marble walls, Thailand teak floors and Italian Dotticino terrazzo stairs. The lobby walls are made of Carrara marble found in Carrara, Italy quarries, which also produced the marble Michelangelo used for his sculptures (i.e. David). Carrara marble is said to be the most valuable marble in the world and is distinguished by its white or blue color with grey lines throughout. The marble walls are “butterflied” to create a mirrored impression on the walls. Another impressive feature is the dedication wall facing the Colwell Playhouse, which pays tribute to the Krannert Center opening on April 20, 1969 with the lettering set in gold leaf.

The Thailand teak floor cost over $1 million at the time of construction, which bought the entire shipment of teakwood allotted to the United States in 1968. The pattern of the teakwood was placed strategically according to Mrs. Krannert’s desire for it to resemble an aerial view of the Illinois landscape. Since teakwood is considered to be an endangered species, the lobby’s floor is essentially irreplaceable.

Foellinger Great Hall

The Foellinger Great Hall was dedicated to honor Alumna Helene R. Foellinger and in memory of Alumna Loretta Foellinger on October 8, 1982.

The Great Hall is the largest theatre in The Center with a seating capacity of 2,078. This space is primarily used for vocal and instrumental performances, so the theatre was designed to enhance reverberation by the hollow stage and is known as one of the most acoustically perfect concert halls in the world. This honor is due mainly to the theatre’s perfect symmetry, including the number of seats, wood paneling and false door in the upper balcony. Originally the false door even included a door handle to match the true door, but was later removed because of it being deemed a safety hazard. Another contributing factor to the Great Hall’s acoustics is the false ceiling suspended by heavy-duty springs 30-feet below the true ceiling. Mrs. Krannert’s attention to detail promoted this installation, as she did not like how typical acoustic clouds looked in most theatres. Finally, the most impressive feature may be the fact that sound in the theatre sounds exactly the same whether the Hall is empty or full. The seats were designed with a foam and fabric to mimic that of a person’s flesh, meaning the seats will absorb the same amount of sound with or without a person sitting in them. The Hall was also designed without any parallel surfaces to deter an acoustically dead area in any part of the house.

The lower foyer of the Great Hall houses a bust of Beethoven sculpted by Antoine Bourdelle, a French artist in the late-1800s to early-1900s.

Tryon Festival Theatre

The Tryon Festival Theatre was dedicated to Richard and Anne Colwell Tryon — founders of the Marquee Circle — on September 26, 1989.

This theatre was designed for operas and Marquee Series events, meaning the acoustics were designed to enhance singing and does not include a fabric-lined back wall to promote an echo (beneficial for opera). There are 979 seats between the main floor and balcony, and also includes the score seats at the back of the main floor for patrons wanting to follow the score during an opera or orchestral performance. The seating is arranged in a modified Continental arrangement, as the floor is too wide to eliminate a center aisle. As a compromise with the Krannerts, two split-centered aisles were created to maintain the center aisle seats.

The Festival theatre is unique in its ability to accommodate a trap door anywhere on stage by removing any of the 4x8-foot panels. The seats are red, similar to the Colwell Playhouse, but the walls are painted white to depict a more light-hearted mood for opera performances.

Colwell Playhouse

The Colwell Playhouse was dedicated to the founders of Colwell Systems, Inc. — and other members of the R. Forrest Colwell family — on May 18, 1984. The Champaign based company makes and distributes office supplies for various health care professionals.

The Playhouse was designed as a performance space for the Departments of Theatre and Dance. The acoustics were designed for the spoken word, which is projected evenly throughout the theatre by the curved walls. The back wall is covered with a thin layer of fabric to then absorb sound and prevent an echo. Even the colors were chosen to enhance the patron experience, as the black walls, red chairs and dimmed lighting create a dramatic effect. There are 674 seats designed in a Continental arrangement eliminating a center aisle, which Mrs. Krannert deemed the best seats in the house. Colwell Playhouse also has two small balconies with accessible seating.

There are three sculptures housed in the Playhouse’s foyer: “Dedication to Grace” by Anne P. Copperthwaite, “Untitled” by Professor Roger Kotoske, and a sculpture in memoriam to former Professor Joseph W. Scott, Department of Speech and Theatre, by Harry Breen, former art professor.

Studio Theatre

The Studio Theatre is a black box theatre, meaning it was designed to be a flexible space to hold many diverse events and hold up to 200 patrons. Movable seating banks and a catwalk grid further support directors and designers experimental performances throughout the season. Due to the black box design, light and sound control is located in a booth above the stage on the south end.

The Amphitheatre

The Amphitheatre is an outdoor performance space with a seating capacity of 560, but due to harsh winter conditions is only utilized in the warm summer months. Previous popular events hosted on The Amphitheatre include PechaKucha, Boneyard Arts Festival and ELLNORA The Guitar Festival performances. Permanent light fixtures were installed on the brick towers to illuminate The Amphitheatre with color each night.

Intermezzo Café

Intermezzo Café opened in 1981 and is located at the South end of the Lobby. The idea to open a café came from former Associate Director Ron Beebe, who was previously a four-star chef in Chicago. After Beebe completed his MFA in theatre, he joined the staff at The Krannert Center.

Originally Intermezzo was known for its selection of Viennese pastries — most being Beebe’s own recipes — served before, during and after performances, but eventually expanded hours to include breakfast and lunch as well. Today Intermezzo Café is open Monday-Friday 7:30am to 3:30pm and before and after most performances. Proceeds from all purchases are invested back into The Center’s performances.

Stage 5

Due to frequent requests for public engagement activities such as artist talks, traffic jams, afterglow and other free performances, Stage 5 was installed in the Lobby with permanent lighting and audio systems.

Sitting on the West side of Stage 5 is the Stage 5 Bar (previously known as “Interlude”).  The Stage 5 Bar is a full-service cocktail lounge area that opened the fall of 1987 and is open 90-minutes before to after most Krannert Center performances end. Most Thursdays Stage 5 also hosts Krannert Uncorked — a free wine tasting from local venues — from 5pm to 7pm, which usually includes a free performance as well. This lounge area is also frequently used for staff meetings and student study spaces. Proceeds from all purchases are invested back into The Center’s performances.


The Promenade Gift Shop was originally an art gallery located in the Lobby to the right of the Festival, but was converted to a gift shop to help with revenue in 1982. The Promenade is open Monday-Saturday from 10am to 6pm and 60-minutes prior to and after performances end. Proceeds from all purchases are invested back into The Center’s performances.



Krannert Center houses four underground garages (Orange, Yellow, Blue and Green) accessible via Illinois or Oregon Street on the north and south side respectively. It is free to park in the garages Monday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and all day Saturday and Sunday. Otherwise the garages are permit only, or metered parking in the north garages. 



ADA-compliant entrances available at street level on the north (Illinois Street) and south sides (Oregon Street) of the building.

In addition to wheelchair accessibility, each theatre has seats with easy access.

Large-print or Braille programs and audiotaped brochures, calendars, and other printed materials available upon request.  An ASL interpreter can be available for any performance and four theatres have infrared hearing systems.


Fun Facts:

·       There is enough concrete in the building to build a 4’ wide 4” deep sidewalk from campus to the Krannert’s home in Indianapolis.

·       There is enough steel in the building to build a railroad bridge across the Mississippi River.

·       There are enough bricks in the building to build 90 homes and pave the streets around them.

·       There is enough aggregate to pave the entire quad.

·       There is enough wire to stretch from campus to Chicago

·       The walls and ceilings contain 45,000 square yards of plaster.


Famous Alumni from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Fine and Applied Arts:

·       Ang Lee: film director, 2006 Oscar for Best Director Brokeback Mountain and director of Life of Pi

·       Nick Offerman: actor, Parks and Recreation (Ron Swanson)

·       Jerry Orbach: actor, Law and Order (Detective Lennie Briscoe) and Dirty Dancing (Dr. Jack Houseman), created role of Billy Flynn in Broadway’s Chicago

·       Allen Ruck: actor, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  (Cameron Frye)

·       Jonathan Sadowski: actor, She’s the Man (Paul)

·       Jerry Hadley: international opera star (deceased)

·       Erik Halvarson: international opera star

·       Gerald Shoenfeld: chairman of the Shubert Organization and dubbed the "Father of Broadway"

·       William Stumpf: designer of the Aeron chair

·       William Wegman: photographer, most memorably of weimaraners Man Ray and Fay Ray

·       Nathan Gunn: opera superstar

·       Sheila Johnson: music educator, philanthropist, and entrepeneur

·       César Pelli: architect of the Petronas Twin Towers and the World Financial Center complex in Manhattan

·       Cecil Bridgewater: jazz trumpeter



Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Electronic Tour Reference

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

Department of Fine and Applied Arts