Theater complex officially underway after ceremony

A group composed of faculty, administration, current and former trustees and a student donned purple and yellow hard hats to officially break ground for the new ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance in a ceremony on Saturday afternoon at the Faculty House. The ceremony marked the end of a series of delays and debates that began with the project’s inception in the spring of 1998.

Despite the project’s previous history, optimism prevailed at the ceremony. “Over time, people aren’t going to remember about the unfortunate delays, they are not going to remember the politics, they are not going to remember about any controversy – they are going to see a magnificent building with a great program,” Schapiro said.

In addition to Schapiro’s opening remarks, Provost Catherine Hill, Chair of the Trustee’s Executive Committee, Robert Lipp ’60 and Herb Allen ’62, the project’s lead donor, addressed the enthusiastic audience of trustees, alumni and faculty.

Following the speeches, and the ceremonial presentation of shovels, the crowd proceeded outside to the construction site for the ground breaking. Breaking ground, the speakers were joined by Kweyao Agyapon, musical director and composer in Residence of the Williams Dance Program, Jean-Bernard Bucky, co-chair of the Project Committee and professor of Theatre, Emily Glenn ’03 and Carl Vogt ’58, trustee.

Since Allen’s initial $20 million donation set the process in motion nearly five years ago, the center’s construction has been marked by controversy. Concerns have ranged from the procedure by which the project was approved to location of the building to the allocation of space within it among student groups.

The original plan called for the creation of an entirely new structure at the end of Spring Street in Denison Park. This was overturned in 2000, and replaced by the final design, which is to be built off of the existing Adams Memorial Theatre (AMT). The new center will include a 200-seat studio and a 550-seat theatre, as well as a renovated AMT, and is scheduled to be completed in 2005. Drawings illustrating the façade, main stage and center stage were unveiled by Hill at the ceremony.

Despite past arguments over the structure of the building, those behind the project pledged devotion to its concept.

“Now we’re in a position where it doesn’t matter so much how we got here, the fact is we have to do something about it,” Allen said. He continued to stress the importance of working to develop the theater beyond just the construction of its walls: “A theater is something more than a building. . .it can be an empty building if we don’t put the spirit in it that’s necessary to make it hum.”

Allen expressed a vision of the center as an integral part of the College, where different departments vie for stage space, and where it’s not just theater, but literature, history, and other disciplines that take advantage of the new resources. He also stressed the connections and access such a space could provide, citing the new space as a way to attract Broadway, and “professionalism.”

The idea of strengthening the theater scene on campus was also emphasized by President Schapiro, as a vision that “tries to bring the academic year the kind of exhilaration and stimulation we get during June, July and August and the theater festival.”

In addition to improving life on campus, Allen also spoke to the important link between the theater and the surrounding community. “The theater should be a connection to the community; people in North Adams who don’t have it as good as we do here, these should be the people who use this theater with freedom and regularity. I say all that because I know the legal title of the theater belongs to Williams, the spirit is open to the community and everybody in the area.” He urged Williams to run this theater in such a “new” way, in order to maximize its potential within the school and community, and to create a “stage to propel the human spirit.”