The vision for a new facility, though still in the initial planning stages, is beginning to take shape. Imagine a 70,000-square-foot space (about the size of the recently expanded Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library), filled with a 250-seat main stage theatre, a smaller experimental theatre, two large dance studios with sprung floors, 12 soundproofed music practice rooms, recording facilities . . . imagine that, and you won’t have glimpsed the half of it. Even more important to students and faculty: Every square foot will be dedicated to the performing arts departments and their curricula, and priority will be given to campus performing groups.
Technologically, the facility would be state-of-the-art. Pat Wong, who teaches a class called Dance and Technology, has her heart set on a performance space equipped for projection and video. “One of the things that I’m really interested in is interactive performance,” she says. “That means that when a dancer moves into a certain place on the stage, a sound or lighting effect can be triggered by sensors.”
Interest in technology related to electronic music is already sky-high on campus. In December of last year, Bruce Bennett ’90, who recently returned to Reed as a visiting composer after teaching at Tulane University in New Orleans, gave a talk on the history of electronic music. “We’ve never had a music lecture that attracted that many people,” says David Schiff.
Indeed, technology is one of the primary reasons to bring the three performing arts disciplines together in a single building. “We all have very different techniques,” Schiff explains. “But these days, they’re becoming increasingly similar because they’re all connected to the computer.”
Plans for further developing the performing arts departments include more than just a building.
The Committee on Academic Policies and Planning expects to augment all of the performing arts departments’ faculties in the near future. Dance will finally be granted two full-time faculty positions, allowing the department to propose a dance major for the first time in Reed’s history.
The new spotlight on performing arts seems long overdue to Tricia Pancio Armour ’99, board president of the Portland Area Theatre Alliance. “Right now there’s a huge disconnect between Reed and the Portland theatre scene,” she says. Armour believes a space that regularly welcomed guests could help students forge relationships with working artists in town, which might in turn ease the transition from the Reed bubble to the real world of working (and wage-earning) artists.
Will Hattman ’04, a music major who is now recording his third album with his Portland band, At Dusk, knows from experience that such a transition isn’t easy. “Unless you’re well-connected,” Hattman says, “of all the careers for which you could conceivably emerge from Reed prepared, ‘working musician’ is as off-the-chart as haberdasher or sea captain.”
But do the performing arts even belong in the liberal arts family? To theatre alumna Erin Merritt, the answer is an emphatic yes. “The arts are in the business of bringing together a community to examine the ideas of importance to that community,” she says. “Artists identify and synthesize all the themes of each of the other liberal arts for the public.”
For his part, music professor David Schiff is delighted about the possibility of a new up-to-date performing arts facility at Reed. But he thinks it will take more than bricks, mortar, and souped-up computers to set the stage for a change of the academic scenery.
“The performing arts departments are in no relation to the core curriculum here,” Schiff insists. “Reed defines itself in terms of Hum 110, and we play no role in that. I think that sends a message that we are peripheral. I don’t know if a building’s going to change that.”