Penn State Intercom......March 6, 2003

Theatre complex to benefit University, region

By Amy Neil and Annemarie Mountz
Public Information theatre05

In the next few months, the Penn State Downtown Theatre center will come to life. Drywall will be painted over and covered with artwork and colorful images, and the sounds of drills and hammers will be replaced with monologue coming from the main stage or the strains of a violin playing in the gallery.

In what will be the "foundation of a lifetime of cultural expression and understanding for our students and our public," according to Dan Carter, director of the School of Theatre, the theatre will open its doors to the public for its first event on June 2, with a preview of Neil Simon's "Broadway Bound."

The Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, at 127 S. Allen St. in the former Danks building, will consist of a ticket center, fine arts gallery and a two-story live theatre space with 150 seats. The 13,000-square-foot space also features a 23-foot high ceiling in the area designated for the theatre chamber. Ancillary spaces include a lobby, dressing rooms, an administrative office and public restrooms. The main entrance is on Allen Street.

The theatre, intended for both town and gown use, will provide the first performing arts center in the downtown business district of State College and alleviate the limited facilities burden for students and faculty in the School of Theatre and its professional arm, Pennsylvania Centre Stage.

To celebrate the opening of the theatre, Pennsylvania Centre Stage plans to reduce ticket prices this season, and to eliminate the cost difference between shows taking place on different days of the week.

"We know that live theatre is expensive and we hope that the combination of being in the smaller venue and being downtown will encourage more people to come," said Carter.

Carter said the theatre school, which has about 250 students and faculty, has sought a third performance space for at least 20 years. The project will complement the school's existing facilities: The Playhouse, a large, 450-seat proscenium stage forum; and The Pavilion, an intimate, 300-seat, extended-thrust stage theatre, both on the University Park campus.

The venue is designed for stage plays as well as musical events, so students and faculty from the School of Music as well as the School of Theatre will benefit from the facility. A gallery with semi-permanent and rotating exhibits will be perfect for displaying works from the School of Visual Arts as well as independent artists, said Carter.

Along with the planned State Theater on College Avenue, the project is intended to contribute to a vibrant performing arts scene in downtown State College, where students, residents and visitors can gather, shop, dine and take in a show.

"This is an opportunity for us to bring theatre into the community," said Carter. "We hope that our patrons will visit the local shops and restaurants before or after performances."

"The arts can play a major role in adding to the vitality of any downtown district," said Richard Durst, dean of the College of Arts and Architecture. "We believe the variety of programming possibilities by this theatre project will be a benefit to our curriculum while also providing another needed performance venue for the State College area."

Carter expects the theatre's location to have a positive effect on the local economy.

"For two of our summer productions, we're going to do two evening shows on Saturdays -- an early evening show and a later evening show. The idea is that one group will come to a show and then go out to dinner. The other group will go to dinner and then come see a show."

The theatre's location will make it convenient for people to do just that.

"We're smack dab in the center of downtown, and live theatre is the heart of downtown," Carter said. "It's a little-known fact, but in the city of Pittsburgh, the arts generate more income than sports. They've got a football team, a baseball team and a hockey team, but the arts generate more income. That's not uncommon, and I expect the addition of live theatre in downtown State College will have a similar, positive impact on neighboring businesses downtown."

Among the anticipated uses for the theatre will be musical revues, cabaret performances, midnight specials, full-scale productions, lectures and theatre classes. The gallery section of the facility will feature a small performance platform for musical ensembles and will accommodate pre- and post-show gatherings. According to Carter, the theatre may be available for community productions during times when no University productions are being staged.

In addition, free, noontime entertainment in the gallery will be offered. "We hope people who work downtown and people who are downtown over the lunch hour will head in, check out our posters, see what's for sale at the ticket office, look at the art on the wall, have their lunch and listen to some music or a short theatrical presentation," said Carter. "It will be informal, so people can stay as long as they want to and leave any time they need to."

The downtown theatre is another example of the longstanding outreach mission of Pennsylvania Centre Stage, which always has tried to serve both the University community and the tri-county region.

"We've always had a community advisory board, and that board is more excited about us moving downtown than anything we've ever done," said Carter. "Penn State has an award-winning faculty, distinguished programs and a strong national reputation in acting, directing, design, stage management and musical theatre. We have an international program that is the envy of our peers, and soon we will have a theatre that will offer the opportunity for us to engage with the community in a new and intimate way."

Amy Neil can be reached at Annemarie Mountz can be reached at