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UMW presents plans for new theatre building

From UMW:  Aerial diagram of the theatre site courtesy of HGA

University of Mary Washington theatre, art and music majors and minors know how to make something beautiful. Now these fine and performing arts programs are engaged in envisioning their next academic home, as UMW prepares to construct a new theatre. The $117 million construction project comes from the 2022-23 state budget and includes funding for the renovation of duPont, Pollard and Melchers halls, a longtime UMW priority.

The case for the project stems from the 2015 strategic plan and was built up brick by brick over the course of five years, through numerous tours of current facilities, focus groups and project planning sessions.

UMW contracted with Commonwealth Architects and HGA Architects & Engineers to develop the architectural plans for the new theatre building and arts and music renovations, which were presented to the Board of Visitors at the Sept. 16, 2022 meeting.

The new home for the Department of Theatre and Dance has been designed with a sense of place and purpose, and with an understanding of the rich history of the architectural language present at UMW. The new theatre will connect to campus and the community, in many ways:

  • Transparency into the building from William Street and Sunken Road will create a “cultural beacon,” helping put the arts – and teaching and learning in the arts – on display while reaching out to invite all in.
  • Accessible walkways carved into the hillside will “extend Campus Walk,” providing a path from the bell tower to the new building’s campus-side entrance.
  • A light-filled two-story “mainstreet” lobby will welcome the community to performances and provide opportunities to engage in campus life.
  • Complementary landscaping will create a building rooted in place while being unique to its mission as a theatre serving campus and community.
  • A distinct and dynamic expression-catching facade, will reflect and shield sun during the day and become one of the key defining elements of the campus at night.

As Associate Professor of Historic Preservation and Campus Preservation Officer Christine Henry noted in the meeting, the building will embody the concept of compatibility: being visually in line with existing campus buildings, while being a modern interpretation of what it is and what it does.

“This has that spirit of classical architecture – the proportions, the screening and the rhythm. It’s about light and dark. It’s more welcoming and a look forward,” Henry said of the presented design.

The new theatre will be a standout and serve as a cultural gateway to campus at the corner of William Street and Sunken Road. The structure and accompanying parking will replace the aging Marshall and Russell halls, which will be demolished as part of the construction.

The designs plot a path for the building to extend Campus Walk and the physical pathways of connection to campus, another part of the intentionality of the design and the forward-facing aspects of the project and this time in UMW’s history.

“I hope it’s an era when we became more outward facing and intentionally a bridge to the community we serve,” said UMW President Troy Paino. “We hope to be opening up our campus to the community we are here to serve, in a very real way.”

In addition to public performances, the building embodies transparency, as the full-height windows bring visibility to the hands-on learning and practices essential to the performing arts:

  • A 300-seat theatre and 150-seat studio will host public performances.
  • Dressing rooms and other back-of-house support will be available adjacent to these stages.
  • Two large dance studios offer practice space.
  • Administrative areas and a box office will be centrally located.
  • Study spaces and lounges overhang open spaces.
  • Costume storage and a wig room will be visible to showcase the variety of work that takes place within the department.

“Our audience can access great theatre in Richmond and Washington. They come to our productions to see our students learn and grow over time. This approach to the building realizes that and allows them to see how we make theatre,” said Professor of Theatre Gregg Stull, who chairs the Department of Theatre and Dance and is producing director of UMW Theatre. “It changes the nature of how we relate to our public. It represents the future for us.”

The design team also shared plans for renovations to duPont, Pollard and Melchers halls, adding spaces, addressing accessibility, working to bring in natural light and  enhancing green spaces between the buildings. New ceramics, kiln and glazing areas, plus sculpture and photography spaces are on the list. Lobbies and gathering areas will be carved out, and performance spaces will be upgraded. Klein Theatre, in particular, will be renovated into a musical recital hall.

Taken together, the construction and renovation projects showcase the heart of UMW’s public liberal arts and sciences mission, while inviting audiences to experience the talent of UMW students, faculty and staff, bringing their work from behind the scenes to center stage.

As HGA Design Principal Steven Dwyer noted, “Now the public will have an opportunity to see what’s taking place on the stage, as well as all the work taking place in the theatre and within the department to put on that performance.”

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