Harper Joy Theatre unveils stunning new remodels

caitlinhardee

There is a striking new jewel on campus where the bland façade of Harper Joy Theatre used to stand. The hub of Whitman’s drama community underwent extensive remodeling over the summer. An expansive glass entrance leads the visitor into Harper Joy’s chambered heart.

Credit: Marin Axtell

Whitman’s Garrett Professor of Dramatic Art, Nancy Simon, took a moment before leaving on sabbatical to London to explain the changes, most noticeably, the addition of a newer, larger “black box” theatre.

“It’s a third again as large,” said Simon. “In one way it will be an advantage, because it can accommodate more scenery, and in another way that’s a disadvantage, because we have no additional staff to take care of all that. That’s the problem of a new building, it needs new staff, and you don’t always get it. Of course, budgets are prohibitive . . . we’ve made a proposal to try to get some assistance in the shop. I don’t know whether or when that will happen.”

Simon pointed out one of the revolutionary design features in the new black box.

“One of the improved things about the black box: this is called a tension grid. Instead of having to work on a ladder, or hang out off of a catwalk, you can just walk right out on the grid to hang and focus the lights. So it’s much faster and much safer.”

Junior Merrett Krahn, who works as a carpenter, electrician and sound technician in Harper Joy, elaborated on the tension grid.

“It’s very cool: I was up there today. It’s a really fluid, flexible system where you can hang lights pretty much at any point, so it lends a lot of opportunities for creativity and more daring designs on both the sound and electrics parts.”

Like a butterfly shedding its cocoon, Harper Joy has finally become a building with beauty to match the quality of its productions. Shallow aesthetics? Maybe not.

“I think that it’s going to be a lot easier to get people excited about drama club and to get some new faces in the department,” said drama club president and senior Mackenzie Gerringer. “We had our first theater orientation meeting and had one of the biggest turnouts we’ve ever had, and I think a lot of it is because of the new building, and everybody seeing how awesome it’s going to be.”

All three floors of Harper Joy now have disabled access with an elevator. The theatre has new office spaces, the old black box has been transformed into an acting classrom, and the main Alexander Stage boasts a new counterweights system for lifting scenery.

“Things are looking good! We’re definitely excited,” said Gerringer.

The first production in the new black box, “The Altruists,” will open in November. In the meantime, Gerringer encouraged students to come check out Harper Joy and get involved in drama club.

“Drama club supports the theater activities, we do all of the concessions for the shows, and we go on different trips throughout the year,” said Gerringer. “On spring break we all go down to Ashland, Oregon and go to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It’s a good way to spend time with other theater kids and see some outside theater.”