Curtain rising on new theater building

Southern Oregon University’s new $11 million Theater Building opened Monday, offering a vast array of studio spaces, with each facet — performance, costumes, lighting, scene design, stage controls, props, theater movement and speech — having a habitat of its own.
The 15,000-square-foot expansion brings the Theater Building to 25,000 square feet. It’s in a complex that includes the new Jefferson Public Radio headquarters, though they are separate operations.
The refurbished and expanded Theater Building kept the old theater, but spruced it up with new flooring and other features, says David Humphrey, director of the Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU. It hosts six productions a year.
Much of the refurb brought dated technology up to speed, with the dimmer machine filling one cabinet about five feet tall. The old machines ate up six times that space with a fraction of the performance, he said. Scads of new state-of-art LED lighting filled a whole room, waiting to be attached to ceiling bars.
The main lobby is spacious and new with a box office and a “Nebula Chandelier” commissioned from Future Cities of San Francisco. It echoes the “semi-industrial” look of the building, he said.
A modern sculpture costing $85,000 will stand out front. It’s by Ben Zamora of Seattle and is paid for by the state “one percent for public art” program. It’s a stack of flat cubes, one of which is translucent and lit, while the others are mirrored to reflect surrounding scenes.
A big performance studio will be available for showcasing short plays or scenes. There are no chairs. It’s meant for action. A design studio is filled with movable tables and laptops, allowing models of productions to be easily and collaboratively put together.
“It was the dream of the faculty, not to build a new theater, but to get new studio space and equipment,” he notes. “Theater has so evolved that we needed to upgrade all the theater equipment.”
“The reason for the building is we needed more space than the 40-year old building had. It was built for 60 theater majors and now we have 300,” says Humphrey.
The school adds 60 new theater majors each year, out of twice than many applications. A huge draw, he says, is the fact that SOU has such a deep partnership with Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which provides guest lecturers and internships — and is one of the largest and most respected theaters in the country.
Many students start out thinking of a future in acting but, realizing how in demand that field is, branch out into other theater majors at SOU, such as lighting, stage management, arts administration and myriad others. SOU now offers an MBA in arts administration which, Humphrey notes, is a “magic wand” door-opener to promising careers. All of them can now happen under one roof.
The adjacent JPR home, costing $3 million, will open in a few weeks. Trees will be planted out front in summer. The expansion will be pronounced “done” by April 20.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.
(April 5: Story updated to correct David Humphrey’s first name and remove a reference to the Music Recital Hall being part of the new complex — it’s not.)

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