Musicals barred from Lisner space

The downstage theater at Lisner Auditorium is bleeding and student theater groups at GW are feeling the pain.

The theater, the principal location for student theater productions, will not be used for musical productions this semester because sound “bleeds” into the main stage at Lisner.

“It’s not that musicals have been outlawed (at Lisner downstage), but we’re being told that they are too noisy to be going on while anything is going on in the main auditorium,” junior Sarah Kupferman, executive producer of Forbidden Planet Productions, wrote in an e-mail. “In previous semesters, we’ve managed to squeeze our performances in between main stage performances or during louder main stage shows, but we’re being told that there are no real good or convenient times to do that this semester.”

Student theater groups may have to wait more than a semester before they can fully utilize the downstage area. It will likely need to be soundproofed before the space can be used for student musicals, Kupferman said. In addition, the downstage must be made handicap accessible in order to comply with fire codes, she said.

Kupferman is unsure where FPP will hold its musical cabaret, considering the downstage is no longer useable. Vice President for Communications Michael Freedman, who oversees Lisner auditorium, has arranged for FPP’s other spring production of “Angels in America” to be held in the Jack Morton Auditorium, said University spokesperson Tracy Schario.

“We’re basically forgoing revenue-producing rentals in the space so that students can produce their musical,” Schario said. “It’s an excellent theater but it’s not something they can have access to all the time. We’re having daily conversations about how to make sure students can rehearse and perform, and a lot of what this involves is some flexibility on everyone’s part.”

The new venue for “Angels in America” is not without its problems for FPP. Jack Morton Auditorium has little offstage wing space, only one entrance for actors and FPP will front $800 for a lighting technician, which Kupferman said is four times what it would usually spend.

“As crazy as it may seem, I think the downstage (at Lisner) allows us to fulfill our artistic and creative visions more fully than any other venue on campus that I’ve seen or heard of,” Kupferman said.

FPP is not the only theater group that will need to find a new home for its musicals this semester.

The Generic Theater Company will also have to locate to a new venue for its spring musical, “Tommy,” but the group has yet to find a suitable location for the rock opera.

“We’ve been looking into other venues on campus; however, it’s very hard to book space at GW; given limited space for everything from meeting rooms to theater venues,” said senior Meghan Long, executive producer for Generic.

Long said that possible theater venues on the Foggy Bottom campus, including Marvin Center – which must be booked at least one year in advance – are mostly out of reach for the group. She said Generic is considering using the Hand Chapel on the Mount Vernon campus if the group cannot find space on GW’s main campus.

“The overall challenge is there’s a space issue on the Foggy Bottom campus and it’s something that every student group has had a challenge with,” Schario said. “The administration is looking at it from both short-term to long- term solutions.”

While short-term fixes for GW’s student theater groups are still in the works, Schario said that a black box theater will be built on Mount Vernon campus to alleviate long term student theater space demands in 2010. The theater will be built into the new Pelham Hall.

Junior Jillian Pitzer, president of the GW Student Theater Council, is concerned about how the administration will accommodate theater productions until then.

“I wish that the University would take action that could help student theater immediately and not just propose a plan to maybe help us by 2010,” Pitzer wrote in an e-mail. “My job is to help the theater companies in any way that I can. In the current situation, I feel that my hands are tied and I have no recourse. I really don’t know what to do anymore.”

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