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Theater students back on stage where they used to ‘tromp around’

For the first time since the pandemic closed the curtain on in-person theater, hundreds are welcomed to witness how theater magic is made

Music theater students perform for open house visitors. Photo by Justin Barbin
Designs by MFA students on display for open house visitors. Photo by Pete Brace
Guests performed on the set of "Last Stop on Market Street." Photo by Alison Lee
Understudy actors perform selections from "The Battlefields of Clara Barton." Photo by Pete Brace
Photo Credit: Justin Barbin
Open house visitors watch as theater students rehearse. Photo by Justin Barbin
Theater students demonstrate acting for film. Photo by Alison Lee

Homecoming weekend gave visitors to the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts a rare behind-the-scenes look at aspects of the center not often seen or experienced. “Open House: A Weekend for the Arts” attracted nearly 500 alums, prospective students, parents, faculty and staff. 

The open house was a first of its kind event for the Wirtz Center and a celebration of theater more than 18 months after the pandemic forced the Wirtz Center to close its doors to patrons and take programming online. COVID-19 safety protocols were in effect during the weekend open house, including mask wearing by all visitors and participants, and timed entry was also used to minimize crowding.

“It feels like coming home,” said Julie Ferrell ’01 as she finished the almost hour-long tour. “It’s impressive and inspiring and great to be back here and on the stage where we used to tromp around.”

The self-guided tour included more than 22 stops, including the Wirtz Center main stages in the Louis and Wallace theaters, multiple black box theaters, the costume shop, the scene shop, where sets are built, and rehearsal rooms.

These students are amazing, and it’s heartwarming to see the things you loved still going strong.

Liz Mulligan '01
More than 60 students volunteered their talents for the weekend event. Visitors watched and listened as musical theater students learned new songs on the stage of the Louis Theater.  Actors rehearsed scenes from upcoming productions. Dance majors demonstrated new techniques in the dance center. Visitors also got a rare, up-close look at one-of-a-kind creations from costume and design students in the school’s MFA programs. Students and faculty from the Radio/Television/Film program also collaborated on unique sound installations across the Wirtz Center.

“Just seeing everything in action again, it was very emotional,” Allyson Rice ’86 said. “It’s amazing to come back and see all the new facilities that have been added. I hope students realize how lucky they are.”

“You wonder how the program is continuing once you are gone — it’s obviously thriving,” Liz Mulligan ’01 said. “These students are amazing, and it’s heartwarming to see the things you loved still going strong.”

A Weekend for the Arts at the Wirtz Center also doubled as a celebration of the anticipated return of live theater to campus. Among the highlights, visitors got an early look at “The Battlefields of Clara Barton,” a co-production with the American Music Theater Project (AMTP), running Oct. 29-31.  Those on the tour also got to witness students rehearsing scenes from the upcoming ImagineU production, “Last Stop on Market Street,” running Nov. 12-21. Tickets are on sale for both shows. Patrons are required to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines.

“The Wirtz Center open house reflects the collaborative ethos in the arts I want to cultivate in SoC and evidences the fact that, despite the darkness of last year, we are back in full effect, thriving on our stages, screens and spaces of art making,” said School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson.

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