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Richard Doty

Last modified: Monday, January 14, 2002

New theatre facilities among nation's best

The new Indiana University Theatre and Drama Center will provide the program's 250 undergraduate and graduate majors with state-of-the-art facilities for their academic pursuits.

"This is one of the very best educational theatre facilities in the nation," said Leon Brauner, chair of the IU Department of Theatre and Drama. "It has the perfect mix of state-of-the-art performance and public spaces, studios, laboratories, workshops and high-tech classrooms."

The $26 million facility, which includes the Marcellus Neal and Frances Marshall Black Culture Center, was built over a 30-month period. Dedication ceremonies for the 117,000-square-foot complex will be Friday (Jan. 18) at 2 p.m. Featured in a joint keynote address at the ceremony and in a public program that night will be Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, noted actors, authors and activists.

Two performance venues, the Ruth N. Halls Theatre and the Wells-Metz Theatre, are key components of the 84,000 square feet dedicated to theatre and drama. "These venues will provide our community with a significant range of living theatre, supporting, at the same time, the creative work of our artists," said Brauner. "Within these two theatres, almost anything is possible."

The Halls theatre is named after an IU graduate from 1919 who loved theatre and the arts. She left her entire estate of $11 million to the College of Arts and Sciences and has been described by IU President Myles Brand as "our greatest benefactor." The Wells-Metz Theatre is named after legendary IU President and Chancellor Herman B Wells and 1909 IU graduate, Chicago surgeon and IU scholarship benefactor Arthur R. Metz.

The first public performance in the new complex will be Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in the Wells-Metz Theatre on Feb. 1. The first production in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre will be Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman on Feb. 22.

The Halls Theatre, with seating for 443, has a state-of-the-art stage and technical support system and provides the audience with a handsome and engaging house of cherry and maple hardwoods and local limestone. There are 16 rows of seats facing a proscenium stage.

The 246-seat Wells-Metz Theatre features movable seating modules, which increases the flexibility of the performance space. The theatre's two balconies, stage and sub-stage provide four performance levels. Brauner noted that a widely varied number of seating configurations will be possible in this theatre. "Our actors, directors, designers and audiences will be both challenged and stimulated by this technologically sophisticated performance space," he said.

In addition to the two theatres, the complex includes studios specifically designed for acting, directing, design, lighting and technology, plus modern, high-tech classrooms. The acting and directing studios also will be used as production rehearsal space. The design studio includes 15 computer drafting, drawing and graphics stations.

A theatre art gallery will feature exhibits related to the theatre performances and also special exhibits of theatre art. The first show this spring will feature the work of international-award-winning Yugoslavian costume designer Milanka Berberovic, as well as designers Ljiljana Petrovic and Ivana Veljovic.

Brauner said the scenic workshop is optimally equipped to provide an exceptional teaching laboratory for stage design and technology students, as well as an efficient and safe environment in which to construct and finish stage scenery. The scene shop also directly adjoins the two stages, a significant logistical improvement over many theatre venues. Brauner said the costume workshop provides costume design and technology students with a safe and technologically advanced facility to experience and master the arts and crafts of stage costuming. A green room for actors awaiting their stage calls, a cloak room, a ticket office, multiple restrooms, a spacious lobby and mezzanine areas are also included.

The Theatre and Drama Center was designed by the architectural firm MGA Partners of Philadelphia to incorporate extensive use of Indiana limestone both inside and out to blend with other campus buildings. This compact and complex structure is made lighter and more livable through the incorporation of more than 15 skylights, Brauner added. To support the efficient movement of faculty, staff, students and supplies there are two personnel and two freight elevators in the three-story building. The general contractor was F.A. Wilhelm of Indianapolis.

"From the conception of the project there was but one goal: to create a beautiful and functional home for the education of tomorrow's theatre scholars and artists," Brauner said. "This extraordinary theatre and drama education facility removes the barriers which have for so long sapped the energy of our faculty and students. This state-of-the-art complex will inspire our faculty and students to greater heights of creativity."

Theatre and drama have been part of the IU Bloomington campus since the 1880s. The University Players were formed in 1929, and the theatre wing of the University Auditorium opened in 1941. The Department of Theatre and Drama was established in 1971, with R. Keith Michael as chair until his retirement in 1996. Brauner joined the IU faculty as head of costume design in 1969 and has been department chair since 1996.