Home / Blog / Curtain goes up on William & Mary’s spectacular, new performing arts facilities

Curtain goes up on William & Mary’s spectacular, new performing arts facilities

Aug 15, 2023Aug 15, 2023

Performing arts will debut a bright, modern new home at William & Mary this fall for students across all disciplines. The university’s new Fine and Performing Arts Complex, opening as W&M celebrates its Year of the Arts, brings students new opportunities to collaborate and innovate in partnership with world-class theatre, dance and music faculty.

Inviting spaces for teaching, learning, research and performance are spread throughout the renovated and expanded Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall and the new Music Building, which together comprise the complex. The venues will serve both the campus and regional communities, coming to life in the university’s Arts Quarter.

“We are thrilled for the opportunities that these beautiful new spaces afford our students and faculty,” said Suzanne Raitt, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences. “The influence of the arts at William & Mary is evident in all aspects of campus life, seamlessly woven into the fabric of our learning and activities.”

The Department of Theatre & Dance will be located in PBK Memorial Hall while the Department of Music will be housed in the new Music Building. The growing Arts Quarter also will include The Martha Wren Briggs Center for the Arts, which will open in fall 2024 and serve as the home to the expanded and renovated Muscarelle Museum of Art. The quarter’s existing Andrews Hall is home to the Department of Art & Art History and its Andrews Gallery.

“The new Arts Quarter represents a significant step toward fostering a tangible sense of identity and a broad artistic vision at William & Mary, enriching the experiences of our talented students, dedicated faculty and the wider community,” said Raitt. “We look forward to welcoming everyone to experience this hub of artistic expression and excellence.”

The inaugural show in the new buildings will be a performance of “Nine” by a group of dancers from the Leah Glenn Dance Theatre and selected W&M students on Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. The event serves as the soft opening of PBK Memorial Hall and will be free and open to the public. A dedication and open house will take place Oct. 19 at 4 p.m. at PBK as part of Homecoming & Reunion Weekend.

That dedication will help usher in W&M’s Year of the Arts, which will amplify the crucial importance of arts education in the 21st century and highlight the vital role that the arts play in all facets of W&M’s educational experience. The year will feature a variety of performances, exhibitions and other events open to both the campus and local communities.

“I’m really excited about sharing what we do and have to offer with the community, not just the William & Mary community but the greater Williamsburg community of Hampton Roads,” said Leah Glenn, Year of the Arts Professor of Dance.

Both new buildings were constructed with sustainable initiatives in mind and are anticipated to receive the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver designation. Advanced lighting and acoustics are among the modern technology in both buildings that will power the future of the arts and their vital role in the campus experience and wider community culture.

“William & Mary educates for impact when we modernize our performing and fine arts with the current advances in technology,” said Omiyẹmi (Artisia) Green, professor of theatre and Africana studies, and provost faculty fellow. “We optimize the ability of our high-achieving students to learn, apply and create impactful work, and we inspire them to be innovative co-originators of a research-productive learning environment.”

Jarrett Bloom ’24, a dancer, musician and professional actor double majoring in theatre and sociology, will be among many students and faculty members who will benefit from theatre and dance being housed together for the first time in the university’s history, with music next door and connected by an underground tunnel.

“I am eager to see all the ways in which the arts are enriched by these interdisciplinary ventures, and know that the arts on campus, and campus life as a whole, will all benefit greatly from these investments and the creation of the new Arts Quarter,” said Bloom.

Theatre and dance performance spaces in PBK Memorial Hall include the 492-seat main stage theatre, 250-seat studio theatre, 100-seat lab theatre and 60-seat dance recital theatre.

The building features spaces for recital, rehearsal and dance as well as scenic design and construction lab spaces, costume construction and conservation areas, media and design labs, dressing rooms and assorted acting labs, classrooms and seminar rooms. It also contains faculty offices and a departmental library.

Rich Lowry, chair of theatre & dance, emphasized the value of uniting theatre and dance in one location.

Collaboration happens in the halls,” Lowry said. “That’s when that stuff starts, and I think we’ll begin to see some ideas that people share. And they’ll manifest themselves in various ways. That’s going to be really important, and it’s going to be important for performance but also for curriculum.”

Abbie Cathcart, visiting assistant teaching professor of theatre, explained that acting classes held in laboratory classrooms will benefit from versatile uses of the new, larger space as well as additional technology and access to media.

“The environment here is going to allow us to experiment with the whole space,” Cathcart said. “This allows us a lot of flexibility and it will enhance the learning outcomes for students.”

Another example is the renovated and expanded scene shop, which will provide professional-level, hands-on experience for students learning to design and build scenery.

“The layout and the availability of space will make for a much better and more impactful workflow,” said David Garrett, visiting assistant teaching professor of theatre and interim technical director.

Dance’s two large studios each have different flooring surfaces to support different techniques, and its new warm-up space is large enough to host small classes. This allows dance to offer more and a wider variety of classes and programming, according to Glenn, who is also the founder and artistic director of Leah Glenn Dance Theatre.

“It will offer more opportunities for collaboration and interdisciplinary work because we’re right there, right next to music,” Glenn said. “That in and of itself is going to bring about a lot of opportunities and challenges. We’ll be able to challenge students to push even further outside of their comfort zones as it relates to interdisciplinary work and collaborative experiences.”

Lowry, a professor of English who is affiliated faculty in film and media studies, added that the Arts Quarter unites not only the arts departments, but enhances arts offerings for the entire campus.

“This is going to be really important to the humanities and all of the departments and programs that are loosely associated with art and practice and performance here,” Lowry said. “I expect film and media studies to benefit from this as well as creative writing, and art and art history.”

Instruction, rehearsal and performance will all be greatly enhanced by the music department’s movement from Ewell Hall into the new Music Building.

Amenities include a 450-seat concert hall, 125-seat recital hall, choral rehearsal space and a recording studio. The facility also includes an electronic music lab, keyboard lab and digital projects lab, as well as space for instrumental rehearsal, a specialized percussion studio, historic keyboards and a new pipe organ. Additionally, the building includes storage, faculty studios, classrooms and practice spaces.

“The building is very impressive, and overall the first impression is that this elevates the department to a new level,” said Richard Marcus, associate professor and chair of music and director of the Wind Ensemble.

“We’re able to offer many things that we were not able to offer in the past. Having adequate rehearsal and performance space is extraordinarily satisfying and inspiring. I hope this will lead to increased participation in our department’s offerings.”

The music building has more than 30 practice rooms, including medium and large ones to accommodate individuals and small groups. Dedicated spaces, such as the global ensembles room that will provide an inclusive rehearsal space for smaller ensembles, expand and enhance opportunities for student participation.

The addition of the recording studio and the electronic music lab allow music to expand its curriculum in new ways, especially in music technology and music recording, said Marcus. Students will be able to gain hands-on experience in recording and technology.

“One of the highlights of the project is the concert hall, which will house our pipe organ,” Marcus said. “Also, having that facility helps us to explore repertoire that we were not able to explore before. We already have performances planned for large choral-orchestral works.”

Each art form calls for a specific acoustic, and the new buildings are each built for the teaching and performances they will foster, according to David Grandis, associate professor of music and director of orchestras.

“A proper acoustic is vital for an orchestra,” Grandis said. “Strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion must reach a balance, a blend of sound which is partly the responsibility of the conductor and partly of the surrounding acoustic.”

W&M Libraries will make musical equipment formerly housed in Ewell’s Music Library available at the Reeder Media Center at Swem Library, with resources and books becoming part of the library’s collection.

For students and faculty who cross over between departments frequently, such as Bloom and Director of Musical Theatre Phaedra McNorton, the facilities’ proximity brings everything together.

“It’s essential to have a relationship with the music department since we use student musicians for the orchestra pit and many of our singers are more involved in the events in music rather than theatre,” McNorton said. “It helps to know the students in music, and now that the buildings are connected, that will happen.”

Bloom agreed the facilities will allow new pathways for innovation to take shape.

“The significance of the integration of multiple disciplines within the performing arts is impossible to understate,” Bloom said. “It is the culmination of the work of countless students’ and faculty members’ tireless efforts to advance the arts on campus. Bringing these disciplines together in one space allows for the collaboration of multiple disciplines, and the creation of a dialogue between these disciplines.”

Jennifer L. Williams, Communications Specialist

.Theatre and dance become housematesMusic moves into the neighborhood