2 Feb 2012

Theater and Film Department Enthusiastic About Possibilities of Wolfe

Author: Collin Sims | Filed under: BGSU, Donnell Theatre, Spring 2012, Wolfe Center

By Collin Sims

The staircase in the lobby of the Wolfe Center features both traditional stairs and platforms that could double as stages for performances. Photo by Collin Sims

When he first joined the faculty in 1986, Ron Shields was told he shouldn’t bother unpacking his boxes as the department would soon be moving to the department’s new facility.

Now after 26 years, Shields is head of the Theater and Film Department at BGSU and along with his colleagues, now holds his office and conducts business in the Wolfe Center for the Arts.

Opened in December 2011, the Department of Theater and Film are excited about the possibilities the Wolfe Center provides for future productions and the arts in northwestern Ohio.

The building cost approximately $40 million in design and construction and covers 93,000 square feet according to Ryan Miller, the building’s project manager.

The University hired Snøhetta, a Norwegian architecture company, after an international search according to Shields.

Designed to resemble the glaciers and rocks that shaped the geography of Ohio, the building was meant to unite various arts studies into a building where students could interact with one another according to Miller.

Regarding the building itself, the most important thing to Shields was that “it had to function as a living space, as well as a learning space.”

Those learning spaces include two new theaters, The Eva Marie Saint and The Donnell, which will host productions by the Department of Theatre and Film along with concerts from the College of Musical Arts.

Both theaters are the result of the collaboration between Snøhetta and a theater consultant from Theatre Projects, a consulting firm that helped determine how technical aspects function best in theaters like the Donnell and the Eva Marie Saint in terms of design, lighting and acoustics.

Miller said what sets the Eva Marie Saint and the Donnell from previous theaters at the university is they are the first theaters at the university originally meant to be theaters. The Joe E. Brown Theater was originally a basketball court, and The Eva Marie Saint Theatre at University Hall was originally a large lecture hall.

The lobby of The Eva Marie Saint Theatre features Roman antique mosaics made of colored marble as part of the floor from a 1965 dig in Antioch, according to Miller.

As the venue for “Arabian Nights,” the Eva Marie Saint is a “black-box” theatre space Shields described as having “the ability to change the relation between theater and performer” with adjustable platforms as part of the design.

Currently working on design for “Arabian Nights” is instructor for the Department of Theatre and Film Kelly Mangan, who teaches courses on scenic art, prop design and technical theatre. Mangan said she had an opportunity to become well versed in the technology of the Eva Marie Saint and the Donnell as the Wolfe Center was completed.

“The new Eva Marie doesn’t compare to the Joe E.,” said Mangan, citing the department never had the ability to have theatre in the round. Mangan said the potential to miss something as an audience member due to sight lines was of concern in the old theaters.

“The Donnell is similar to the old Eva Marie Saint, but is different in so many ways,” said Mangan, who notes the better acoustics, closer seating and brand new technology as improvements on the previous theaters.

Due to the Wolfe Center and the state-of-the-art equipment, Mangan said she hopes people will take notice of the university and come here intentionally with the desire to work in the new theaters and with the new technology.

Like Mangan, Department of Theatre and Film Associate Professor Michael Ellison hopes this new technology will help the Wolfe Center bring more attention to the arts.

“My hope is the building will be a major center for collaboration in the arts,” said Ellison. “My hope is that we’ll be able to teach classes in the theaters.”

Ellison, who serves his 13th year as a faculty member this year, directed and choreographed past department productions of “A Little Night Music” and “Cabaret” and directed “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

While he appreciates what he and the rest of the department accomplished in the original theaters, Ellison said he enjoys working more in the new theaters.

Excited about the new possibilities and opportunities the new theaters offer, Mangan said she does miss the sense of nostalgia and history the old theaters possessed.

“University Hall had a charm and a history,” said Mangan. “I like old things and this new building doesn’t have that yet.”

In addition to the Eva Marie Saint Theater is the Donnell Theatre, which will open in February with a gala concert.

European opera houses, Shields said The Donnell is “the old and new working together” as it is shaped to carry architecture reminiscent of the renaissance and features state-of-the-art technology.

The Donnell features the ability to hold between 360-400 seats, some featuring the names of various donors, depending on the usage of lifts in the orchestra pit.

Featuring elements the theaters in University Hall did not have like the black-box lay-out as well as easy access to the scene shop allowed for greater transportation and construction of the sets for upcoming productions.

The placement of the scene shop and costume shop make a world of difference to Mangan, who said it is great to have the theaters, the shops, the offices and the classrooms all under one roof.

“The day we have shows in both theaters at the same time is when we know we will have hit the top,” said Mangan. “The theater department can spread its wings, and the Wolfe Center can be a primary place for students to learn.”

This greater access has also allowed for sets that are big enough to be assembled in the shop, as opposed to before when they would need to be assembled on stage said Mangan.

Mangan hopes as time goes by, the Wolfe Center can be a space where art is shown and currently has the possibility of lots of performances to come.

“The Wolfe Center has the potential to be an incubator for different ideas,” said Mangan.

Ellison will be directing and co-choreographing the department’s opening production in the Donnell of “Chicago”, which started rehearsals last week and will have the first read through on Sunday.

The production pays homage to vaudeville, Ellison said noting the clear hierarchy of the actors in the production and their prominence in the show’s performances.

In the midst of a massive transition, Ellison said he is unsure of the future of the Wolfe Center and the Department’s role as they are in the process of electing a new chair in addition to a new university president, a new provost and five new buildings on campus.

“It’s a year of new beginnings,” said Shields. “I’m excited the building has the ability to attract people for the arts in the region.”

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