Visions differ on theater complex programming

With preliminary construction of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance underway on campus, many people have differing visions of what it will and should become upon completion. The facility should ideally serve the needs of the theater department, the community and the students, but some are concerned about whether it will be able to fulfill all of these purposes. In particular, student groups, who grapple with performance space restrictions currently, fear that they will be blocked out of the new center.

The center is being built with funds donated by Herb Allen ’62 in order to accommodate the College’s growing need for more performance space. Originally, the College planned to build the center on Spring Street, leaving the Adams Memorial Theatre (AMT) intact for use by Cap & Bells, the student run theater group at Williams. However, the plans were reevaluated and it was decided instead to renovate and expand the AMT. This concerns studen- run organizations, who argue they will still not have adequate performance space.

Members of the administration feel that the center should be primarily dedicated to academic use by the theater department. “I feel that the first priority of all of our facilities should be to be used for our primary mission of teaching. After the curricular needs of the Theatre department are met, then the needs of other users – student groups and outside performers – can be met,” Dean Roseman said.

“The theater and dance programs, and all the faculty, students and staff involved with these programs – both participants and audiences – will definitely benefit,” added Cappy Hill, provost.

Individuals involved in crafting the center’s focus apparently believe that outside performance groups will have at least some presence in the new building. President Schapiro was recently quoted in the Berkshire Eagle as being interested in ensuring that the new center will be on the same level as Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He has also expressed interest in having the New York City Ballet utilize the new facility. “The Center will also allow us to host a variety of outside performers who can enliven life in the Berkshires even further during the academic year,” Schapiro said.

Roseman concurred, saying “Outside performers serve the entire community in important ways.”

Most agree that student organizations should also have a presence in the new building. Groups like Nuthin’ But Cuties (NBC) and Cap & Bells have historically had trouble finding performance space because they are not overseen by faculty sponsors, and the hope is that more will be available to them in the new center.

However, no space has been specifically allocated to either group in the performing arts center or in the plans for the new Baxter Hall. This has led to concerns that the students’ needs are not being fully met, or are being stifled by the theater department.

“I honestly don’t think it’s doing everything that I had hoped for,” said Claire Kendrick ’03, artistic director of Cap & Bells.

“The situation as it stands is that we need more theater space on campus, desperately. Between Cap & Bells and the theater department, both of which have full seasons every year, we are constantly fighting for space, and when you add in other theater groups, there is rarely a week that goes by without someone in each of the current spaces. The new building does not seem to do much to alleviate those problems.”

Most hope that there will be more opportunities available for student organizations due to the great expansion of existing facilities. The new Center will both renovate the AMT and include a new studio theater and a new 550-seat theater. However, the new center is also expected to be used as an alternative to Brooks-Rogers, Chapin Hall and the Bronfman auditorium for speakers, showing movies and other campus events.

In addition, it will provide a much improved venue for the high-profile Williamstown Theater Festival that occurs each summer. “It is our expectation that the building will be busy and lively throughout the year,” said Hill. “We haven’t had adequate performance space on campus for the last few years, and the new building should help tremendously.”

Although the specific logistics of sharing the new building among the many groups wishing to use it have not been completely worked out yet, there is still a consensus that everyone will benefit at least to some extent from the new facility. “The new building is going to be great,” said Hill.

However, it is the logistics that concern Kendrick. She said that while performance groups have been told that they will have access to the new facility, she fears the lack of articulated structure could result in prioritizing Cap & Bells last in the allocation of time in the various spaces.