PAC addition could relieve packed spaces

GVL / Sara Carte
Music Eduaction major, Ashley Qooistra, practices playing her violin in a practice room in the Performing Arts Center on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016.

Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte Music Eduaction major, Ashley Qooistra, practices playing her violin in a practice room in the Performing Arts Center on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016.

Claire Fisher

The students are rehearsing in faculty offices, the equipment is being stored wherever space is found and the schedule for classrooms and performance halls is booked solid; the Performing Arts Center is packed. A new addition to the building is in the planning stages to help relieve some of these tight spaces.

“We’ve been severely hampered by space in the PAC,” said Danny Phipps, chair of the music and dance department. “We have very little space or time to have a really fully thriving pedagogy because we have to spend so much time moving equipment from small, cramped offices to rehearsal spaces and then they only have 15 minutes and they have to tear down, and it’s just been a nightmare.”

The current plan for the addition contain plans for new ensemble rooms for jazz, new music, early music and percussion; theater classrooms and rehearsal space; storage space for costumes, risers, and other equipment and a new black box theater.

“Walking through (the Performing Arts Center) and just looking at the scheduling, you can see there really is a need that this addition is serving,” said Associate Interim Dean Merritt Taylor. “You have an amazing program that runs really hard and you have really dedicated faculty and students that are working a tremendous number of hours–that space is used a lot. It’s great to make it so that this enterprise will run more easily just by giving them some capacity to run the activities.”

James Bell, chair of the theater department, said the black box theater will offer more opportunities for a variety of performances because the theater is set up with the stage in the center of the room with space for audiences on all four sides.

“The nature of a black box space is one that offers considerable flexibility,” Bell said. “Seating in the space can be reconfigured into numerous styles which affect the dynamic between the performers and the audience. Black box theaters have become very popular and versatile performance spaces in professional theater. Adding such a space provides a more diverse experience for theater students that is very important, whether they gain experience as actors, directors, designers, stage managers or technicians.”

In addition to providing a more adaptable space for theater performances the addition to the building will help relieve the booked schedule in the Louis Armstrong Theatre by providing an alternate performance space as well as a full-sized rehearsal space.

“There has been a very busy schedule in Louis Armstrong Theatre,” Bell said. “Besides the actual performances, many productions need technical rehearsal time in the space. Student productions have been limited in number because of the demands for time on the Louis Armstrong Theatre and limited access to rehearsal spaces.”

Phipps said the new addition will help the programs in the performing arts center to provide space for more student projects, experimentation and extra-curricular activities.

“The sad fact is that (the addition) means we will actually be able to have extra-curricular,” Phipps said. “We’ll actually be able to have real ‘un-instruction’ because for the first time we’ll have the space to do it. It’s not that we’re adding anything extra-curricular, we’re finally going to be able to do what we should do.”

The addition to the Performing Arts Center is the only first step toward making the building more functional, Phipps said. He said the center is also in need of a large performance hall that can accommodate more audience members.

“This area needs a beautiful hall,” Phipps said. “We don’t have a hall that holds more than 400 people, realistically. We have nothing like that and we’re now a university that is one of the largest in the state and we’re the only one without a hall commensurate to the size of our faculty, staff and student body.”

Taylor said the administration is discussing a large performance hall in the future that would seat 1,200 to 1,500 people. Neither plans for a larger performance hall nor the plans for the addition to the Performing Arts Center have been approved by the GVSU Board of Trustees.

“We can’t put a timeline on (the additions) because it’s all about support and financing it,” Phipps said. “Our hope is that more and more people in the community will realize the need for this and want to support the university in this.”

Taylor said the addition will help the theater, music and dance programs have a better chance to share their work with the community.

“I’m excited about the ability for us to showcase our talent more,” Taylor said. “I think the big thing is that this is something that is well deserved by those programs. The students are outstanding and so I think this addition recognizes that and also wants to help promote it and help it grow.”

The addition of the black box theater, ensemble rooms, theater classrooms and storage space will help the programs in the Performing Arts Center to function properly, Phipps said.

“The first thing they had to do was come up with adequate classroom space,” Phipps said. “I can’t really tell you what new great things we want to do, all we want to do is do what we should do and because of space limitations we’ve been barely able to function. This will help us function; that’s exciting to me.”