The plans are in the making: New theater arts building?

By Rachel Epstein

Arts & Life Editor

Sandwiched between the whitewashed houses of sorority row and Monomoy House lies a quaint brick building reminiscent of an 18th century Quaker church.       If you’ve never been this deep into South Quad, you might never have noticed the Ace Morgan Theatre, nestled behind some pine trees, acting as a home for the theatre department and its talented students.

But, in the next five to ten years, it might not even exist. Plans have been drawn for a new performing arts space that will not only enhance the value of the Denison theatre majors’ experience, but also give a new, more expansive space to all of the areas in the performing arts including music and dance. However, the jury is still out on whether or not replacing Ace Morgan is the best option for development. According to Provost Kim Coplin, “future plans for Ace Morgan aren’t yet known, but it is one of the sites being considered for the new building.  The other site being considered is in front of Burke, with Burke becoming the back of the building.”

President Adam Weinberg, a large supporter of the project,  understands the need for a new space, “Denison has a very long and proud tradition across the arts, but we do not have one performing arts space that was built for the purpose that is currently being used. This building will give our students and faculty the spaces they need and deserve,” he said.

While the design plans are still in the very early stages, the process is intended to be highly open and collaborative. Denison hired architecture group Westlake Reed Leskosky (WRL) to work alongside Fine Arts faculty, staff and students to create a vision for the new space. Ideally, WRL will present a finished plan this December, which will springboard a fundraising campaign into action. These plans will determine the start and end date of construction on the project, along with the fundraising campaign. So far, Denison has raised $7 million towards the project, but breaking ground on the building will require at least $20 million.

Currently, the small and quaint Ace Morgan Theatre gets the job done in terms of what stage performance is, but it is incredibly small, rickety and old. Built in 1956 and dedicated to Denison alumni and theatre student Leroy “Ace” Morgan, it houses a 194 seat theatre, a woodworking and costume shop and a box-office. Its charm is ever-present with an off-Broadway feel, but in terms of an actor’s development, it is a bit too limiting.

Director of Fine Arts Programming at Denison, Mike Morris, understands what limited resources the Fine Arts program has in terms of performance space. But in terms of what the new building might bring to campus, he hopes the space will invite collaboration across many different departments.

“Broadly, we are being intentional in the design process to provide facilities that will foster collaboration, not only within the fine arts, but across many academic disciplines,” Morris said. “Specific to the arts, the faculty and students in the arts have done such remarkable work with extremely limited facilities. Having instructional, rehearsal and performance spaces employing current technologies will enhance learning opportunities and the increase in the production value of all performing arts events will be astounding.”

Support for the new space is palpable, as students feel Denison is trying to provide a more well-rounded and real life approach to their practicum studies. Callie Towles ‘16, captain of the dance team at Denison, is excited about the prospect. Although she won’t be a Denison student when the project is completed, she understands the need for a new space.

“If we had a space designated for dance, we’d have more options for practice times. The team would be able to revolve more around our members’ schedules rather than around other clubs [use of the space]. Having another space would allow us to practice more and work on bettering ourselves as a team,” Towles said.

Weinberg also commented on what the new space will bring in terms of vibrancy on campus life and the arts, “the arts are important and we have love and proud traditions across them. It [the new building] will add vibrancy to the Arts Quad. I see this building as a space that is heavily used at all hours of the day and night. It will be a focal point for the arts at Denison,” he said.

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