Theater students will build sets in Maryland after ‘scene shop’ relocates

Instead of a cramped space in a corner of the Marvin Center’s first floor, the Department of Theatre and Dance’s scene shop relocated to a refurbished warehouse in Maryland this fall.

Though the space is improved, the trek underlines performance groups’ nagging space issues. The new warehouse is 30 minutes away from Foggy Bottom – in light traffic – and requires either a trip in a GW van or a Metro ride to Landover and then a five minute walk to the warehouse.

About 16 students taking Basics of Production Design and a handful of students with work-study jobs in the shop will take a GW van to Landover, Md. The students taking the Basics of Production Design class will be allowed to count travel time towards the class’s required 44 cumulative hours of outside-of-lecture work over the course of the semester, but still must find enough time once a week for a 3-hour lab, plus the drive both ways.

Many students said they have struggled to find time in their schedules to factor in the commute.

“It’s certainly farther than we would hope, and it’s less convenient than our former shop but in D.C. it’s hard to come across a good space so I think that’s what they had to settle on,” senior Aaron Pollon said.

Students also said they were worried about moving a number of set pieces back and forth during the end of each semester, when there are six main department shows and several senior thesis projects playing at once.

Matt Nickely, a senior majoring in dramatic literature who worked in the scene shop last fall, said he doesn’t see it running smoothly.

“In my head, the problem is that you’re going to have to have stuff going back and forth, and it’s not going to be so simple anymore as when [if] you need another leg, someone can go to the shop and cut one. Now, that it’s miles and miles away,” Nickely said.

The move comes after the fight for student space on campus last year came to a head, when performing student groups said they had a hard time finding a space to practice and sometimes danced in parking garages.

The department’s previous space was demolished earlier this fall to make room for the Marvin Center’s new loading dock. The building’s old loading dock was knocked down during the first stages of the construction of the “superdorm.”

And while the space crunch on GW’s urban campus is a common problem, theater groups have fought for more space and upgrades to stages for several years.

The department will test the Maryland space for this academic year, which could become permanent if logistics work well, said Carl Gudenius, a professor who teaches production design.

He added it could be a good thing because the building would allow the department to “correct some chronic issues that existed in the laboratory’s previous location” with more space to create the sets and upgraded equipment.

He said he hopes that the inconvenience will be offset by the extra space in the warehouse, which will allow students to lay out sets in the exact configurations they will sit on the stage. He said this will make it easier for designers to see the need for alterations before pieces are brought back to campus for installation.

Gudenius added that it was an “unexpected opportunity,” which is the most modern space GW has ever had to use for set production.

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