Theater construction set to be complete soon

Construction has closed down the westbound lane of Irvine Street behind Norton Auditorium. The new venue will take up the area behind Norton Auditorium between the auditorium and Irvine Street.

Construction for a black box theater on the corner of Seminary and Irvine is set to be completed by February of next year. The theater will be home to a variety of productions as students leave Norton Auditorium to enhance their studies.

“I want it to be a safe environment for students to explore their craft,” said theater professor Dr. David Ruebhausen. He said that it’s important for students to feel secure during the early phases of their training.

The department has set plans to have student one acts in April to test out the new facility.

The first large production to take place in the black box will be during summer 2012. The production is currently projected to be “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Ruebhausen said that it will be directed by a twice-nominated Tony director and may feature a well-known Hollywood actress. Both names have yet to be released as the department is currently working on the final details.

Ruebhausen said that in 1996, when he first started to work at UNA, he had considered moving his department to the Shoals Theater, but the cost of renovation was out of the budget. During the next 10 years, he looked at dozens of locations in the Shoals area. He decided that it would be best to add on to Norton Auditorium to avoid duplicating necessary equipment that was already available.

UNA President Dr. William Cale is committed to the development of the new theater, said Ruebhausen. He said Cale has an appreciation for the arts and the academics that theater classes offer.

“We are so thankful to him,” said Ruebhausen.

The main classes that will use the black box are acting, directing and movement. With other events taking place in Norton, the scheduled classes are often interrupted. The new theater will allow the students to focus primarily on their skills without disruption.

Several other students will be able to put their knowledge into practice such as those in the lighting class. Auditorium Technical Adviser Alice Gross and her student employees are responsible for the lighting and other aspects of stage preparation at Norton. Once the black box is open, Gross will assist in the beginning but the theater students will later be in control.

The size of Norton Auditorium requires the students to shout their lines and to overact to allow the full room to understand the play. “Norton isn’t built for our type of performance,” said junior theater major Forrest Harlan.

The new theater will have multiple seating arrangements based on the type of play and will reduce the need to overact.

The seating could be set for a thrust stage in which the audience is on stage with the actors.

“This past spring we did three shows where the audience was on stage with us,” Harlan said. “It was a little nerve-racking at first having people right there, but it was cool.”

Multiple other seating arrangements will be used. Ruebhausen said it will help the students be better prepared in their training for when they graduate.

Norton will still be used for large musical or Shakespearean productions. Ruebhausen said hopefully the theater department will expand to crossovers with both the musical and film and digital media productions departments.

Harlan said he is excited about the new opportunities that the black box theater will bring to the department.

“I want it to be our home,” Ruebhausen said. “It’s the piece that has been missing from the department.”