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Curtain rises on new SOU Theatre Arts Building

Southern Oregon University’s newly expanded $11 million Theatre Arts Building opened this month, 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 building to 25,000 square feet. It’s in a complex that will include the new Jefferson Public Radio headquarters, though they are separate operations.

The Main Stage Theatre remains, but has been remodeled, says David Humphrey, director of the Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU. It stages six productions a year.

The expansion project brought dated technology up to speed, with the dimmer machine filling one cabinet about 5 feet tall. The old machines ate up to 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 installed.

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’s “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 says. “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 that many applications. A huge draw, he says, is the fact that SOU has such a deep partnership with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which provides guest lecturers and internships.

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 the summer. The expansion will be pronounced “done” by April 20.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

The new SOU Theatre Arts Building nears completion earlier this month. - Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune