It may not look as elegant as its neighbor, the new Paccar Hall, but faculty in the design department in the School of Drama are thrilled with their new digs, located in a former swimming pool and locker rooms in Hutchinson Hall.
In the distant past, Hutchinson was the womens physical education building and was outfitted with a gymnasium and a pool on its south end. The gym became a black-box theater and rehearsal space several years ago, and now the pool (filled in) and locker rooms have become the schools design studio. Design faculty moved in over the winter, and have slowly been making the space their own.
The remodel was done on a bare bones budget — much of it going to fix the leaky roof — so the décor is pretty simple. The original tile on the floors and some of the walls remains, for example, but no one is complaining. The new space is just over 8,000 square feet, compared to about 2,000 square feet in the old space, which was on University Way near Northeast 40th Street. And more important, its in Hutchinson Hall, which is headquarters for the School of Drama.
“I love having both my colleagues and my graduate students in the same building,” said Deb Trout, a costume designer and interim head of the design department. “After years of traipsing across campus to the dingy teaching/studio space, [on University Way] or chasing each other down via phone and email, it is fantastic to hop out of my chair, walk down the hall and enter the airy space where our grads spend their time developing their work. I feel much more connected and available to each student.”
When faculty moved in, furniture was scarce, but through donations and other means, theyve found what they need. Set designer Robert Mark Morgan, for example, was sitting in the coffee shop in Gould Hall and happened to overhear people talking about some drafting tables that were going to be surplussed. He quickly secured some of them for the studio.
Drafting tables are, in fact, a major improvement for Morgan. He teaches the undergraduate design classes, and previously conducted them in regular classrooms wherever space could be found. Now he has a classroom with enough drafting tables for everyone, along with computers secured through the Student Technology Fund.
“With those drafting tables and the computers, students are able to look at their research while theyre working on their models,” Morgan said “Its a perfect room for a class like this.”
For design students, “research” is often in the form of images, Morgan explained. If the setting of a play is in a bar, for example, students may pull up photos of bars on the computer to use as inspiration while they work.
The same is true of costume design students, Trout said. “Currently, in our undergraduate design class, were exploring volume and shape in three dimensions, so students are taking a famous and inspiring building like Notre Dame and using it as inspiration to design a dress.”
Like the set design students, they can pull up photos of the building in question and look at it as they work.
As for the graduate students, they had drafting tables in the old studio, but what they didnt have was a good space for critiquing their work. Now they have a large airy space with room to pin up a number of student projects on the walls.
Lighting design students are also benefiting from increased space. The lighting studio in the old building was only 15 by 20 feet with a lighting grid that was 10 feet off the floor. The new space is 30 by 40 feet and the grid is 14 feet off the floor. The change means not only more room for 15 students in a class to work, but a more realistic approximation of what theyll be working with in an actual theater.
“One of the undergraduate spaces is the Cabaret Theater, and that has a grid at 17 feet, and our undergrad students design in there all the time,” said Andrew Smith, a lecturer who teaches lighting design. “To go from a space thats 10 feet high and 15 by 20 feet to a space thats as large as the cabaret is, is challenging. This gives students a much more accurate idea of what theyre going to be encountering.”
And Smith said the old space was cramped in more ways than one. “Its a funny thing; you even feel cramped in your ideas when youre in that small a space.”
The new lighting lab also has something the old one didnt — a scrim. A scrim is a dark, mesh-like curtain that can be pulled in front of the white cyclorama, or “cyc,” that forms the back wall of a stage. Its a standard piece of equipment in a theater, and allows the lighting designer to more easily manipulate light on the cyc.
Wonderfully equipped as the new facilities are, the location in Hutchinson Hall is the thing that draws the highest praise.
“Theater is a collaborative art form where scenic design ideas need to cross-pollinate with the other disciplines — directing, acting, costume, lighting and sound,” Morgan said. ”Now that we’re all under one roof, that kind of collaboration happens more freely and results in a better product onstage.”