The Lied Center for Performing Arts will host a First Friday open house to celebrate the newly renovated Johnny Carson Theater and lobby and Carson’s impact and legacy on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.
The event will begin at 4 p.m. June 5, in the Johnny Carson Theater — north of Q Street, between 11th and 12th streets — starting with a ribbon cutting, and will conclude at 6 p.m. The Lied Center will provide refreshments for visitors to enjoy while they view the renovations to the space, as well as historic photos and video from Carson’s long career in television as the host of “The Tonight Show.”
Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, in 1925 and grew up in Norfolk. He served in the Navy during World War II before enrolling in classes at the University of Nebraska in 1947. He received a bachelor of arts degree in radio and speech with a minor in physics in 1949.
Throughout his career, Carson maintained a strong relationship with the university. In 1988, as construction of the Lied Center neared completion, he provided a major gift to finish the multimillion-dollar endeavor. The Johnny Carson Theater, a black-box theater used for intimate performances, master class and experimental projects, was named in his honor. Over the years, UNL has received more than $13 million from Carson and the John W. Carson Foundation. To honor the entertainer, the university renamed the Department of Theatre Arts the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.
“I got my start in the Temple Building and have never forgotten the impact of my academic studies at the University of Nebraska on my life and career,” Carson said in November 2004, about two months before his death.
Thanks to an additional gift from the John W. Carson Foundation in 2013, the Johnny Carson Theater underwent an extensive renovation in 2014-2015. The transformation not only honors Carson’s legacy with a special tribute area, it will enhance patron amenities, provide more space and comfort for productions and serve as a plaza and entry leading to the arts quadrant of the UNL campus.