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Blinn’s new Black Box Theatre to host its theatrical debut Thursday

New space brings new energy, resources to Blinn’s theatre arts productions

November 11, 2015

Black Box stageIt is fitting that Blinn College’s new Bryan campus Black Box Theatre, a space specifically designed to host performances evoking a variety of ideas and emotions, means so many things to those involved in its construction.

For some, Thursday’s opening performance of David Ives’ “The Liar” will mark the beginning of the Theatre Arts Program’s latest production. For others, it serves as the culmination of a three-month construction process that brought Blinn students a brand-new Student Center experience. For still others, the new space is a sign of the campus’s dramatic growth over the past two decades.

For Richard O’Malley, vice president of Facilities, Planning & Construction, the new space demonstrates the power of collaboration in overcoming challenges.

To Dr. Marcelo Bussiki, dean of Visual/Performing Arts & Kinesiology, the black box is a sign that Blinn and its students are ready to play a major role in the Bryan-College Station performing arts community.

It was a lot to pack into a single performance space. Somehow, it all fits.

THE CHALLENGE
One of Bussiki’s first tasks upon arriving at Blinn was to introduce theatre arts courses to the Bryan campus. At the time, it was a risky proposition. With many students seeking to complete their core courses before transferring to a four-year university, it was unclear whether students would be interested in elective theatre courses.

In Fall 2007, Blinn introduced its first theatre arts courses – and they were a hit.

“We had to see if there was interest in theatre on this campus,” Bussiki said. “We could have opened two or three sections of theatre courses and completely failed because there might be no interest, but once we saw how successful the courses were, we were able to take the next step and give our students a real opportunity to be in an acting environment.”

dressing roomTo complement the courses, Blinn developed student performance opportunities. Without a dedicated theatre space on campus, Bussiki needed someone to develop a theatre arts program that could perform in a small, open-space area. In Greg Wise, formerly the theatre director at Brenham’s Unity Theatre, Bussiki found someone who shared his vision for a theatre program that focused on the creative process even more than the final production.

“Those theatrical experiences in very small, intimate venues in my youth are part of what made me who I am today,” Bussiki said. “It opened my imagination to this completely new world that I had known nothing about, and that’s what I want for our students. I want our students to come to a production and develop a passion for artistic expression. In my opinion, those are the powerful experiences our students will take with them from Blinn College – the emotionally-charged moments music and theatre have the potential to bring.”

The Bryan campus began by hosting its performances in the Barbara L. Pearson Banquet Room. The week of each performance, the theatre arts students would take over the room, setting up the stage, its lighting and the audio equipment. For each performance, Wise would rent theatre lighting, then drive down to Houston to pick up the equipment. He and his students would spend hours on ladders setting up the lighting and testing it in the days prior to each performance. After each performance, Wise would load up the lights and drive them back to Houston.

The nearest available dressing rooms were located on the other side of the Student Center, so students performers actually raced through the kitchens to circumvent the audience and get backstage. It was guerilla theatre at its most guerilla.

After five years of performances in the Pearson Banquet Room, Blinn announced a $10 million Bryan campus renovation project last year that would include a complete renovation of the first floor of the Student Center and the construction of a new black box theatre space that would also accommodate daily student use, meetings, lectures and musical performances.

“The challenge was creating a room that could not only meet the very specific demands of a black box theatre space, but also create an atmosphere where students could study or relax during the day, that would be just as suitable for a social sciences lecture as it was for a theatre performance,” O’Malley said.

To begin meeting that challenge, O’Malley began gathering key personnel together and identifying what they needed out of the space. As they discussed their priorities, a vision began to take shape.

“It started as a gigantic wish list and we slowly whittled it down in a way that allowed everyone to come out a winner,” O’Malley said.

THE SOLUTION
For Blinn’s theatre arts students, that wish list included a permanent audio and lighting setup. Blinn purchased and installed state-of-the-art lighting that can remain up year round, allowing students the opportunity to gain hands-on training in theatre lighting throughout the year.

Opposite the stage sits a technical control room hooked into both the lights and the mounted speaker system. Just like the lights, the audio setup allows Blinn instructors to discuss techniques and ideas in the classroom, then offer students the opportunity to test their knowledge with a hands-on demonstration.

“It creates opportunities for the kinds of hands-on instruction that really help students learn proper stagecraft,” Wise said.

With dedicated lighting and audio equipment, Blinn students can fine-tune their productions in a way they had never been able to before.

Behind the stage, the space features a dedicated dressing room and a multi-use instruction room where Blinn faculty can not only offer theatre courses, but a wealth of other options.

There’s even additional storage space – a crucial detail for a theatre troupe.

“Now that we have the tech booth, we can work with the equipment and the actors year-round to perfect it,” said Kevin Reaves, a second-year student from Houston who served as both an actor and an audio technician during Blinn performances last year. “Having the sound box and the light board together, combined with the convenience of the dressing room and our rehearsal space – I was really enthusiastic when I saw it. It’s a huge improvement, not just for Blinn theatre but for the entire College and all the arts.”

While students have been using the space for the past two months, Thursday’s performance will mark the first opportunity for many in the audience to enjoy the 140-seat black box as a performance space.

“The audience will definitely notice the difference in the lighting and the sound system, and the acoustics are better as well,” Wise said. “It’s a room that has been designed with productions in mind first rather than the other way around.”

Written by David Ives, “The Liar” is an adaptation of a 17th-century French play that follows a young man who comes to Paris and immediately falls in love, but thanks to his knack for stretching the truth, he’s soon spinning a tangled web of tall tales to impress the ladies and confound his adversaries.

All the dialogue is set in iambic pentameter, with each verse ending in rhyming couplets.

“I think it’s a great challenge,” Wise said. “We’ve never done this with students before, and I wanted to do something we haven’t done before to make a splash. Let’s face it – it’s just a funny, silly, farce of a play. A guy who can’t tell the truth and a servant who can’t tell a lie – what could make for better comedy than that?”

The curtain rises at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for the general public. To purchase advance tickets, email BryanBoxOffice@blinn.edu or call 979-209-8100. Tickets will also be available at the door.