By Tracy Salter, Assistant Professor of Theatre
Before this year, any space on the Graceland campus that was used for theatrical productions was neither dedicated nor designed with performance in mind. Anyone who has ever had to ‘make do’ with using something for any purpose other than what it was truly intended will immediately recognize the frustrations and shortcomings of such a situation. You can probably bake a cake from the heat of a light bulb but the results will always leave something to be desired. Such was the case until the unveiling of the JR Theatre, our stunning new black-box theatre in the Shaw Center. Today, we move Graceland theatre to a different place.
Arliss Howard, Artist in Residence
This amazing new space already feels like a modern miracle: It is not only one of the finest dedicated spaces for theatre in existence anywhere in the country, it also serves many other purposes that previous drama students and faculty could hardly imagine. It immediately reflects an elevated sense of importance so that this space, the program it serves and the productions it will house are suddenly much more significant and a new part of Graceland’s identity! This, in turn, makes recruiting top-quality new students and faculty more possible than ever before. It creates an atmosphere that is conducive to elevated levels of performance and creativity. It will inevitably attract new personnel who will be excited to work with the technical side of theatre (lighting, sound, set design and costumes), resulting in an expansion in curriculum that will, in turn, increase enrollment and theatrical activity on all levels.
The JR Theatre now provides greater flexibility and versatility so that the program can expand its scope and explore new pathways. It is already beginning to spur interest from professional artists who appear eager to perform in this room. Internationally-known actor/writer/director Arliss Howard will be on campus this fall as artist-in-residence. Arliss has been a prodigious actor since the early 1980s, working in television and on Broadway, but primarily in film. His credits include Big Bad Love (co-starring his wife, actress Debra Winger), Men Don’t Leave, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Full Metal Jacket and many others. He will be working with the department this fall to produce Our Town, our first production in the JR Theatre.
The Graceland Theatre Program considers itself especially fortunate to have Arliss here this fall. When students work with the best artists in the industry, they are elevated to a new level, forcing them to professional levels that are not realized in a classroom. The work being done in the new JR Theatre will be performed at the real-world level. Welcome to Graceland Theatre as it moves to “a different place.”