“You start out with a blank floor,” said Robin Jaffe, project adviser for the College of Liberal Arts. “Say this room was filled with nothing. That’s what a black box starts with, then designers and costume people and everyone gets together and says, ‘hey, I’d really like to do this in three-quarter thrust.”
A three-quarter thrust is when the stage juts out and audience members sit on three different sides.
Jaffe said members of the theater department try to arrange the stage they currently have to suit their plays, but they will have much more freedom with the black box theatre.
“It’s going to be a state-of-the-art facility,” Jaffe said. “One thing that’s different will be a wire mesh floor on the ceiling so we can walk across the whole ceiling, and it gives the students a different programming experience than working with the lighting we have in the main theatre.”
The current main stage used by the theatre department is a proscenium arch stage, and it creates distance between the audience and the actors.
“Usually, with a proscenium arch stage, people tend not to come out in front of it, so there’s this fourth wall that’s a safety for audience members in the sense that we don’t invade your space,” Jaffe said. “In a black box theatre, we can get closer.”
The differences in a black box theatre mean the staff has to learn different ways to set the stage, Jaffe said.
“Ever been to a boxing match?” Jaffe said. “The seats are all the way around. When we get closer to the audience, and the set is right there in their face, things have to be more realistic or stylized in specific ways. Props become more important and scenery becomes less important.”
Not only will the audience be close enough to see the smaller setting details, but they can also become more involved with the play itself, both emotionally and physically, Jaffe said.
“The audience will come in the same way and be part of the theater, and that’s what’s kind of cool,” Jaffe said. “There’s that safety an audience member feels when the character isn’t up close and personal, but then we invade your space, and you can do that a lot more in a black box.”
Jaffe said precautions are taken to make sure audience members aren’t hurt during a performance, however.
“I’ve actually been in shows where the audience went out and came back in and it was all changed,” Jaffe said.
“You could do that, but generally seating would stay the same for safety reasons. The audience is always safe.”
Jaffe said the College of Liberal Arts will make a new bid on the theatre soon, since the previous bid came out over budget.
Jaffe said he expects the black box theater to be finished about one year after a sucessful bid.
A new dance studio and other improvements will also be added to help with the theatre department’s NASAD accreditation.
“We’re very excited about this new addition,” Jaffe said. “It’s really going to make a difference in our lives in the department, as well as for the University.”