Construction underway on new theater

Photo by Taylor Miles | The Duquesne Duke. Officials break ground at the site of the new black box theater adjacent to the music school, which is set to open by fall 2015.

Photo by Taylor Miles | The Duquesne Duke. Officials break ground at the site of the new black box theater adjacent to the music school, which is set to open by fall 2015.

By Brittney Jackson | The Duquesne Duke

Groundbreaking for the $4.5 million, 10,500 square-foot black box theater started Tuesday outside of the Mary Pappert School of Music.

The two-story theater, which will be complete by fall 2015, will encompass a main theater space with dressing rooms, green rooms, space for set construction, rehearsal space and seating for 160. It will sit adjacent to the music school at Seitz and Locust streets.

Duquesne officials announced Tuesday that The Design Alliance, a local firm, will be the group responsible for designing the building.

Martin Powell, president of The Design Alliance, said the small triangular location and steep surface were challenges when designing the theater.

Powell said his group worked closely with the University to meet their needs to design the best theater.

“The black box itself will be a fantastic space, very flexible, and all types of performances will happen there,” Powell said. “The magic will happen in that space.”

The Design Alliance has designed theaters in the past, including the Point Park dance studio complex and the Shadyside Academy High School black box and theater.

Shawn Ball, manager for Turner Construction Company, said a black box theater is unique from other buildings because it requires a high level of sound quality and vibration control to meet performance needs.

Ball, who is the project executive for the black box theater, will provide operational support from the start of construction until completion. He said he really likes the exterior look of the building and thinks the theater will be a great addition to the limited number of performance spaces in Downtown Pittsburgh.

“It’s encouraging to know that the quantity of performance spaces will grow,” Ball said.

One of the best features about the theater is that “everything is changeable,” Duquesne project manager Terri Leasure said. The purpose of a black box theater is to modify all aspects of the interior in order to meet a wide variety of performance needs.

Leasure said she is excited about the theater and the new space the Red Masquers, Pittsburgh’s oldest continually running theater group, will have to call home.

“[The Red Masquers are] getting much needed rehearsal space, which they’ve never had before,” Leasure said. “They had to rehearse and do the production in the same space, which made it difficult. Now they will have the rehearsal space and the production space.”

Caitlin Young, secretary and public relations chair for the Red Masquers, is also thrilled about construction starting.

“It’s the most exciting thing that could ever happen at this University for us,” Young said. “It’s the first freestanding theater on campus so it’s the first time that we feel like we have a space that we can call our own.”

The groundbreaking ceremony included a speech from University President Charles Dougherty who discussed the many sites Red Masquers called home in the past, which includes the Peter Mills Theater in Rockwell Hall, the Union ballroom and the Administration building.

“With completion of this new facility, Red Masquers will finally have a home,” Dougherty said.

According to Leasure, the portion of Seitz Street next to the Mary Pappert School of Music will be closed during the construction period. Only a section for walking will remain available to students.

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