First Look: Tiedtke Theatre & Dance Centre
November 10, 2021
By Elsa Wenzel
Rollins breaks ground in November on a new theater and dance center, further cementing the College’s role as a leader in performing arts education.
The curtain is rising on a new performing arts era at Rollins with the production of a state-of-the-art, 16,165-square-foot theater and dance center that includes the first custom-built black box theater on campus.
“Students who get to use our new facility will be able to realize productions on a whole new level that will blow everyone away,” says theatre arts major Mary Fulton ’23, a member of the Rollins Improv Players, which evolved over the years on Rollins’ past black box stages.
The new Tiedtke Theatre & Dance Centre breaks ground in November for a grand opening in 2022, made possible by a $5 million gift from Philip and Sigrid Tiedtke and generous support from Sally Albrecht ’76, a prolific and celebrated composer who double-majored in theater and music at Rollins. The center combines cutting-edge technologies with intimate spaces that foster hands-on learning, radical experimentation, and student leadership.
“The theater project is critical to the educational excellence and rigor of one of our top-ranked academic programs,” says President Grant Cornwell. “Generations of students will benefit from this investment.”
Front and Center
The Tiedtke Theatre & Dance Centre will be adjacent to the Annie Russell Theatre and just north of Keene Music Hall, anchoring a creative neighborhood of the arts on campus. Renowned architectural firm Baker Barrios is designing the new space in harmony with Rollins’ iconic Mediterranean architecture. Topped with a red tile roof, the building will feature a low-slung fountain, graceful arched doorways with classical columns, and a covered walkway for talking scripts in the shade.
Inside the Box
At the heart of the center will be a 1,900-square-foot black box theater, an ideal canvas for imagination and experimentation. The new black box space will host formal performances of up to 142 guests, integrating the latest in design, lighting, and sound systems. Pull-out seating risers enable layout transformations to various styles of theater, including the traditional proscenium, thrust (catwalk), and arena (audience on all four sides).
Robert Miller, Rollins’ technical director and resident sound designer, says the fully equipped facilities will enable students to explore, question, and find solutions before applying their knowledge to a production.
“Students will be more competitive compared to their peers from other institutions,” he says, “and they will possess the skills necessary for a meaningful career in theater and a multitude of other disciplines.”
State of the Art
In the new facility, classrooms dedicated to design and technology, dance, acting, and directing will be equipped to help students create work uniquely their own, sharpening their skills on the stone of experience. The new dance studio will feature professional flooring with floating subfloor and multipurpose marley overlay, natural light, top-line sound and AV equipment, and the professional finishing of full mirrors and barres. Lighting gurus will have at their fingertips an innovative Yeager Light Lab that fine-tunes storytelling via a 1/6th-scale working model of a theater, which costume and design students can also utilize.
The center will also include a 2,400-square-foot Costume Design and Technology Lab, which will integrate a costume shop, fitting rooms, a draft room, and storage for the accoutrement of live productions such as props and regalia.
Theatre arts majors like Fulton, who designs lighting, stage-manages, and directs, are anticipating the breadth of new opportunities the space will create.
“The new building will help make the department more cohesive and for facilities to be more accessible for students,” she says. “The convenience is going to encourage students to try out new materials and make bolder decisions.”
A Dream Realized
Albrecht, who has an award-winning career in composing and educating, has mobilized for the past five years to bring the theater and dance space to life. She hopes to ensure that future Tars will enjoy the creative freedoms she reaped behind the piano and on the stage at Rollins.
“My life at Rollins blossomed because of the student-run theater complex, which was known as the Fred Stone Theatre,” she says of where she musical-directed a Noel Coward review and played piano for You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. “It’s where students got to do everything. We got to create our shows, decorate them, make the costumes, build the sets, direct, audition, put together the programs, and advertise. It was a place where we learned the ins and outs of theatrical life.”
Albrecht notes how Rollins’ black box theaters of bygone eras nurtured the talents of industry stars like Tony Award-winning actress Dana Ivey ’63 ’08H, Broadway star Christopher Fitzgerald ’95, and award-winning comedy writer Janis Hirsch ’72, who penned scripts for popular TV shows like Murphy Brown and Will & Grace.
“The Annie Russell is glorious, built in 1932. I mean, it’s stunning,” says Albrecht. “But the black box theater gives you that flexibility to do theater in the round, or do a cabaret sort of show; it just gives you a chance to to be a little more creative. And if you’re a theatre major, it’s important that you have both kinds of experiences.”
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