By Carolyn Conte and Casey Chafin | The Duquesne Duke
As the final months of construction for Duquesne’s new black box theater begin, some are concerned about whether or not the space will be able to serve the needs of all the performance groups on campus.
The $4.5 million theater, which will open in time for the fall semester, is replacing the Peter Mills Theater, which currently resides in Rockwell Hall. The new space follows the black box theater model, which includes seating on three or four sides of the stage, with a space meant to be flexible and adaptable to many different kinds of performances.
However, the new space will be limited to approximately 130 seats, compared to 210 seats in the Peter Mills Theater, according to Jillian Lesaca, the incoming president of Spotlight Musical Theater.
“There will be a smaller audience,” Lesaca said. “…if we have the same amount of shows, that’s like a lot less seats that we can fill, so we really want people to come out every night.”
Tyler Costello, a Duquesne sophomore and Spotlight member, said Spotlight shows attract large crowds, but do not fill every seat in the Peter Mills Auditorium.
Costello is concerned about how the seating and design of the new theater will fit with Spotlight’s musical theater performances, which tend to feature large casts and complicated dance scenes.
“I’m not so much worried about the size, it’s more the style,” Costello said. “Black box theaters, in my experience, don’t work very well with large set pieces or big casts like we had in ‘[The] Addams Family.’”
In addition to Spotlight, Encore Show Choir, The Red Masquers and Exhalations Dance Company have used the Peter Mills stage in the past. However, Exhalations moved to an off-campus facility when the Peter Mills stage was no longer large enough to accommodate the dance company. There is no evidence that the black box theater’s stage will be large enough to house the group.
According to Mark Minoski of facilities management, the black box theater’s performance space is 40 ft. by 60 ft., minus any area taken up by seating. The seating is flexible and removable in some respects, with additional seating meaning less floor space. The Peter Mills stage is a static 33 ft. wide and 26 ft. deep.
John Lane, the director of the theater arts program at Duquesne and the producing director for the Red Masquers, is confident that the new space will be an improvement for Duquesne’s performance groups.
“It’s small,” Lane said, “just like Peter Mills is small, and Spotlight is not going to be able to do large scale musicals in this space. But they can’t do large scale musicals in Peter Mills, so they need to be smart about the choices of musicals that they do.”
Lesaca said that with enough planning, Spotlight will continue to thrive in the new space.
“I personally have never worked in a black box before,” Lesaca said, “… but if you take your time to do your research, you can find that there are a lot of ways to adapt shows.”
Asst. News Editor Kaye Burnet contributed reporting.