Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Beloved theater space to have new purpose

DU’s Department of Theatre held its last departmental performance in the Little Theatre in Margery Reed Hall in February 2010 with a production of Closer.

While students have already been working in the Byron Flexible Theater and the University’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts, the Little Theatre is a landmark and was home to theater students for 82 years. Moving forward, most theater productions will be performed at the Newman Center.

The Margery Reed building was finished at DU in 1928 at a cost of $255,611. The theater inside was named after the Little Theatre movement, which arose around 1912 as a reaction against the dominance of large commercial theaters. “Little Theatres” were built to bring more intimate plays to audiences — plays that were supposed to provoke thought and emotional naturalism — rather than elaborate productions.

“There aren’t many theaters built to embody these ideas,” says Dan Jacobs, DU art curator and Myhren Gallery director. “It was a rare opportunity to have a custom-built theater around this theme.”

Because the Little Theatre was designed according to the movement, it also has no proper space in the wings or backstage.

The technical limitations of the Little Theatre, according to theatre Professor Davy Davis, have challenged faculty and students to find new ways of achieving their ends, making it an effective teaching space over the years.

“Some of my most creative designs were done in the Little Theatre,” Davis says. “It is only when none of the modern methods are available are you forced to really get to grips with the problem and find a unique solution.”

Anthony Hubert, professor and co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Conservatory Theatre, is hosting his children’s camps at the Newman Center this summer.

“I love the old stage and will miss it,” he says. “But the Newman Center is a professional venue that is 100 times more exciting than working in the smaller space.”

In 2007, the Little Theatre unveiled a treasure. After years covered in black paint, a Shakespearean mural painted by John Edward Thompson was found framing the stage. It was painted in 1929 by Thompson, who taught painting and drawing at DU for years.

Since then, art conservation students have been working with professional art conservators to restore the work to its original form. They have made significant progress but have a considerable way to go.

“The progress is on hold pending funding,” Jacobs says. “Part of being a great university is that you preserve and retain your history — and sometimes you have to be patient to do it!”

Daniels College of Business faculty and staff will occupy Margery Reed. They plan is to use the theater as a lecture auditorium for the business school.

The public will be able to see at least one more performance in the Little Theatre later this year when graduating theater seniors present their capstone projects.

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