New School of Communication Facilities

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September 16, 2016

The School of Communication’s theatrical and filmmaking facilities are growing.

The Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, the performance complex at the heart of the Departments of Theatre and Dance and of Performance Studies, has undergone a major summertime renovation that added approximately 8,000 square feet of production, teaching, and audience space to the structure. New and improved theatre spaces, coaching rooms, computer labs, and common areas will greet the student actors, dancers, designers, and stage managers entering Northwestern this week.

Moreover, work was completed last spring on a state-of-the-art soundstage that will act as the physical centerpiece of the new MA in Sound Arts & Industries, as well as a dynamic classroom and professional space utilized by undergraduates in our Department of Radio/Television/Film (RTVF).

Wirtz Center:

A substantial addition at the northwest corner of the facility will create a new entrance and larger lobby space. Three versatile black box theaters, used for instruction and performance, are being added. One such space will have 24-foot ceilings with structural reinforcements for dance activities and aerial work; another will be configured for use in our innovative modular curriculum, notably the popular Acting for the Screen module that draws students from theatre and RTVF. The second floor will be equipped with conference/seminar rooms, a design studio, a computer lab, music and coaching rooms, and expanded restrooms. Earlier this year, a major renovation to the Josephine Louis Theater was completed, which included lowering the rake of the house and configuring the seats for better accessibility. A renovation of the Louis Theater lobby is also planned.

The complex was completed in 1980, then called the Theatre and Interpretation Center. It was renamed in 2015 for alumna Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz, thanks to a generous endowment from her grandson, alumnus Rocky Wirtz (C75), and his wife, Marilyn. In 2009 they funded the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Visiting Artist program, the most recent of whom was poet and playwright Dael Orlandersmith.

The existing Wirtz Center facilities include the 429-seat Ethel M. Barber Theater, the 288-seat Josephine Louis Theater, and the 100-seat-each Hal and Martha Hyer Wallis and Mussetter-Struble Theaters. The center also includes a massive 7,800-square-foot state-of-the-art scene and paint shop and a 2,500-square-foot costume shop, which are linchpins of the MFA in Stage Design program. The Marjorie Ward Marshall Dance Center is connected to the Wirtz Center.

In the spring of 2015, all theatre, dance, and performance studies faculty and staff moved from the second floor of the Wirtz Center to the fifth floor of the new Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts. The vacancies have accommodated many of the additions and reconfigurations of the Wirtz Center, and situating the faculty together in the Ryan Center has enabled opportunities for collaboration and curricular advancement.

Soundstage:

Pristine, professionally appointed, and full of possibilities, the School of Communication’s newly completed soundstage is open to students — and limitless opportunities for collaboration.

“The new sound facility will assist the mission of Radio/Television/Film by giving students the resources they need to make the sound component of their work truly excellent,” says Jacob Smith, associate professor and director of the new MA in Sound Arts & Industries. “Our students will gain experience working in a range of dynamic, emerging sound-focused platforms, and that will give them more outlets for their creative work and provide them with more chances to interface with professional networks.”

Funded by a generous anonymous gift, the 1,700-square-foot, cool-gray-and-whitewashed-wood space has infused great excitement into a previously underutilized corner of John J. Louis Hall. The facility was designed for students and faculty to score films, produce sound effects, record voiceovers, and innovate audio storytelling. Features include: a state-of-the-art hybrid digital console and 5.1 audio mixing system in the control room, a 6,500 lumen HD laser projector for film screenings, Pro Tools HDX audio editing system, five layers of drywall for soundproofing, sound attenuators and lined ductwork, a custom-built Foley pit, an isolation recording booth, acoustic fabric panels, multiple broadcast service panels, and an innovative asymmetrical footprint for optimal sound distribution.

The space was designed to be flexible, so sound beginners and pros alike will find value in its many capacities. Smith says soundtrack quality on student films will take a “quantum leap forward,” and sound arts such as podcasting and interactive installation art will thrive in the space.

“It’s both sonically and visually stunning,” he adds, “which will make it an inspiring place to do creative work.”

And all facility updates will continue solidify Northwestern’s theatre and film programs as the world’s best.