Construction Limits Space For Theater Productions

Campus construction has sent some student theater groups in search of performance sites for the upcoming semester, with several popular venues unavailable because of renovations.

As the Student Union prepares to begin Phases II and III of its three-phase renovation project, its underground Cabaret is closed for use. The Union's Great Hall is scheduled to close next semester.

Ryan Donahoe, director of events planning for the Union, said the closing of the two sites has put a strain on student theater groups, which often have used both venues to stage their performances.

"(Theater groups) are scrambling to find performance venues," Donahoe said. "There's not much space right now because all the renovations fell at the same time."

Construction on the Union is scheduled to resume this winter, and the final two phases of the project are expected to take 10 months to finish.

Donahoe said his department has provided student theater groups with lists of alternative venues such as Gerrard Hall and the Union Auditorium, which will not close for renovations.

But Leigh Conaway, producer for the student theater group Company Carolina, said weekend dates for those venues and the Great Hall already have been booked for this semester. Conaway said her group is now looking at scheduling fall performances in large classroom spaces, which she said would limit the types of shows the company could perform.

Student theater producers said the closing of Memorial Hall for renovation has worsened the space crunch, forcing big-name acts to be scheduled in the secondary venues normally open for theater groups.

"It's sort of like a domino effect," said Carolyn Shook, producer for Lab! Theatre. "All the groups are being indirectly or directly affected by each of the closings."

Donahoe said some theater groups are looking into the possibility of scheduling performances in the Union Auditorium or Playmakers Theatre on weekdays instead of Friday and Saturday nights.

One group that did have success reserving Gerrard Hall this semester is the Pauper Players, which moved its annual Winter Revue from the Cabaret to Gerrard this coming February.

But Jean Kerley, an administrator with Pauper Players, said the venues' crowded schedules will force the group to cut back on the number of shows or rehearsal time.

Kerley also said that with not enough performance room to go around, even groups that are able to schedule performance dates are feeling the negative effects of the space crunch.

"The groups on campus shouldn't have to compete to foster the growth of the UNC arts community," she said. "It feels like we have to beat each other out."

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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