Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hollins Theatre Gets a Big $$$ Boost

Photo from "Chicago" (above) and President Nancy Gray (right)^

If you thought Hollins University Theatre was among the best around before, you’ll have to do a doubletake in the near future when the physical surroundings match the productions. The university is embarking on a comprehensive renovation of its theatre with a $3 million commitment from the James S. McDonnell Family Foundation.

Hollins will receive $1 million annually from the foundation over the next three years, beginning this year. Based in Lincoln, Mass., the James S. McDonnell Family Foundation is named for the noted aviation pioneer and founder of McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, which later became McDonnell Douglas Corporation.

The organization's mission is to support scientific, educational, and charitable causes locally, nationally, and internationally. McDonnell's daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Hall McDonnell, is a member of Hollins' Class of 1962 and serves on the university's Board of Trustees. Her husband, James S. McDonnell, III, is a member of the foundation's Board of Directors.

"Renovating our theater is one of our most pressing needs," says Hollins President Nancy Gray. "This support will enable us to take the first steps to truly transform theater programming and other performing arts offerings on the Hollins campus."

During the past several years, the Hollins productions under the leadership of Associate Professor of Theatre and Department Chairman Ernest Zulia have shone as a beacon among the region's theatrical companies. Student productions have often surpassed the offerings of local and even professional theater in the region. Zulia has staged such ambitious and well-received productions as "Chicago," "Doubt," "Caroline, or Change," and "Into the Woods."

The following improvements are among those the gift will fund:
  • Replacement of existing stage rigging with a new electric rigging system above the stage for the hanging of lights, scenery, and drapery.
  • Upgrades to HVAC and electrical systems, including air conditioning for the entire building.
  • New light coves flanking the stage; blackout shades; and updated lighting.
  • New paint and carpeting for the theatre's interior.
  • A new sprinkler system and rear fire stair.
  • Increased accessibility, including the addition of an automatic door opener and making the existing lobby and Theatre Annex restrooms handicapped accessible.
  • Flood control to address periodic flooding of the Theatre Annex basement.
Hollins' 550-seat proscenium theatre was constructed in 1924 at the height of the "Little Theatre" movement, a trend toward smaller, more intimate theatre that began in response to the advent of motion pictures. (In fact, the facility is still commonly referred to by many alumnae as the "Hollins College Little Theatre.") The New York Drama League called it "the best equipped theatre south of Washington."

Today, the theatre remains an essential part of intellectual, artistic, and student life at the university. Two main stage productions, including one musical, and two studio theatre productions are presented each year for the campus community and the general public. Students participate in every aspect of theatre production, including acting, musical theatre, design, directing, technical production, and stage management.

In addition, the theatre is an important venue for the university's dance department, which has garnered national attention on its own and through its affiliation with the American Dance Festival. The theatre hosts the annual Fall Dance Gathering, which showcases innovative new works by student, faculty, alumnae, and other artists.

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