Upgrades At The Rio Grande Theatre In Las Cruces

Feb 25, 2015

  In September 2005, the 79-year-old Rio Grande Theatre began the next stage in its evolution as an entertainment and cultural center in the heart of Las Cruces. 2015 marks the 10-year anniversary of the monumental effort by the Doña Ana Arts Council to restore the historic landmark, with generous support from New Mexico state legislators, the City of Las Cruces and the community at large. To celebrate this milestone achievement, the Arts Council will host a gala celebration on September 12, 2015.  The City of Las Cruces also has been pulling out all the stops by giving the Rio Grande Theatre a much-needed lighting upgrade, a brand new projector and a new surround sound system.

“This is a big year for the Rio Grande Theatre,” said Executive Director for the Doña Ana Arts Council Kathleen Albers. “It started the downtown revitalization and now we’re kicking it up a few more notches. We’ve got a new management agreement in place with the City and it’s a true partnership. We’ve been recognized as a cultural icon by Heritage Hotels & Resorts and we are partnering with Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces to make the theatre a tourist destination. We just got the new lighting system and a high definition projector, which are both top of the line. We can now say we really are “state of the art” and are competitive with some of the best venues in the state. The fact that it’s happening in 2015, which coincides with our tenth anniversary, is very exciting.”

The recently completed upgrade to the lighting system included moving 12 lights from the catwalk above the auditorium, along with ten more lights that had been held in reserve, to a new electrical grid now located on the balcony facade.  “We’ve been wanting to do this for years,” said Technical Coordinator Bruce Ven. “We really needed low profile lighting, because any time someone wore a hat on stage, their faces would be in shadow.”

The addition of an Electronic Theater Control (ETC) lighting system in the control booth will allow for lighting technicians to program shows in advance, reconfigure and save files and even transfer files from other locations.

“Some performers and groups have all of their lighting cues saved on a laptop or flash drive, so now they can send it to us and we can plug it right in,” Ven said. “This is saving us hours of set up time. We used to have to compromise a lot, but this is easier and more intuitive, so we can take our shows to the next level. If we used to be a Dodge, we are now a Cadillac.”

“It was a long time coming,” Albers said. “We started working on this two years ago after we had to go dark for a couple weeks and ship our old Strand lighting system off to be repaired. It was outdated and we couldn’t get parts for it. We realized we were vulnerable and might need to cancel shows. We knew we had to upgrade, so we requested the City add it into their capital improvement plan, and they made it a priority. Now we’re set for another ten years or more.”

The projector is also a fresh addition, put into place just in time for the premiere screening of PRC Productions’ locally-made feature film “Truth” on February 27th. Mounted on the balcony facade, just below the new lighting grid, it is perfectly calibrated for correct focal length, a problem that plagued the theater with the old projector. Able to project films in High Definition, the result is a crisp, clean image which hasn’t been seen in the theater since its hey day as the premiere cinema in Las Cruces.

According to Ven, the new addition is “a high definition projector, a 1080, that accepts all three components: PCs, DVD and Blu-Ray players with HDMI. The surround sound system is also new. We don’t have to run the audio through the house system, which is only in stereo. Films nowadays aren’t filmed in stereo; they’re all in surround sound. Finally we can make them sound the way they’re supposed to.”

In addition to the upgrades, the Arts Council is moving the annual spring Community Arts Awards Gala to the fall, in order to coincide with the 10th Anniversary celebration. Taking place on September 12th with a dinner and awards ceremony honoring leaders in the arts community outside on Main Street, this year’s event will be followed by a headline show still to be determined inside the theater. Award nominations are currently being taken and the nomination form, along with all categories, is available online at

“We wanted to make this year special by combining the awards ceremony with the 10 year anniversary of the Rio Grande Theatre’s re-opening,” Albers said. “The renovation of the Rio Grande Theatre really was the kick-off for the entire downtown revitalization. I really want to say kudos to the city councilors and to the city staff for recognizing the importance of this building to the rest of the city. There is a lot of wonderful stuff happening all around us downtown, but we want the community to know we are continuing to up our game, too. What better way to do that than to combine all those efforts in one big celebration on Main Street.”

Originally built in 1926 as a vaudeville theatre and premiere movie palace, the Rio Grande Theatre closed in 1997, only to be rescued from obscurity by the Doña Ana Arts Council, then renovated and reopened on September 16, 2005 by a community pulling together to restore their beloved historic landmark. The theatre now operates as a full-service, 426-seat performance facility, playing host to a variety of performers, from children’s theatre and dance recitals to legendary musicians and national touring groups. The only remaining two-story adobe theatre in the country, the Rio Grande Theatre has been placed on the State Register of Cultural Properties and the National Registry of Historic Places. It continues to be a social hub of activity in southern New Mexico. For more information, visit or call (575) 523-6403.