Creative Arts Center at Wright State celebrates expansion

Community invited for a behind-the-scenes peek

Theater, film, art, dance and music students at Wright State University now have an academic home worthy of their school’s impressive reputation.

The College of Liberal Arts just completed a $30 million Creative Arts Center modernization and expansion that’s been in the making for more than 12 years and includes the departments of theater, dance and motion pictures as well as the department of art and art history and the school of music.

An open house celebrating the new facility is slated for Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 9. If you haven’t been fortunate enough to attend a Wright State Arts Gala, here’s another great opportunity to see these talented young performers and artists in action.

Over the course of the afternoon, student tour guides will be on hand to chat with visitors and to direct them to classes and rehearsals in progress. Attendees will not only get a behind-the-scenes peek at acting and dance classes, they’ll sit in on a wind instrument and choral rehearsal. By the time you leave, you’ll have a better appreciation of just what it takes to create the kinds of live performances our community members regularly enjoy at Wright State.

Another opportunity to visit the new complex takes place on Saturday morning, Dec. 3, when the school hosts the family-friendly Wright State University ArtsFair.

Meet Dean Sobolik

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of walking through the new center with Dean Kristin Sobolik, a professor of anthropology who came to Wright State from the University of Maine in January 2013. As the head of the liberal arts college, she’s responsible for all liberal arts majors including the 700 fine and performing arts students.

“Our students have been very successful. They are out and about in the world making a huge difference,” Sobolik said. “We knew we were doing a good job, but we felt that our facilities were not living up to their success.”

That’s no longer the case as you’ll see the moment you approach the Creative Arts Center’s attractive new entrance. The accessible building is now clearly identified. There’s an adjacent visitor’s parking lot and benches on the new walkway. A standout feature is the wall of dichroic glass that changes color based on the angle of the sun.

You can’t miss the creative energy going on inside the building: the new dance studio has a huge wall of windows that faces the out-of-doors so even before you enter the building you can see jazz or modern dance students working with their instructors. A lovely sight! “We wanted visitors to see what goes on behind-the-scenes,” Sobolik explained.

Senior Halie Ayers, who is specializing in modern dance, said she chose Wright State because the program was small and intimate and the faculty made her feel at home when she first visited the school. “I love these windows,” said Halie, who was in the midst of a jazz class in the new studio. “They give me more life when I’m dancing because of the beauty around me.”

The building’s history

The Creative Arts Center is four decades old and has a multi-layered history. There have been two previous expansions over the years and the decision was made to retain those previous additions and add to them. “You can see that very clearly in the architecture,” Sobolik explains. “We wanted to embrace the history of this building and then add something unique and creative to it.”

The Tom Hanks Center for Motion Pictures, dedicated in April, is also part of this new complex and includes a New Media Incubator —shared think space for communication and motion picture majors.

The facility now blends the departments of theater, dance and motion pictures as well as the department of art and art history and the school of music. Three performance venues are also part of the mix: the music department’s Schuster Hall, the Festival Playhouse for theatrical performances and the Herbst black box theater.

The newest additions include:

  • A new entry foyer and new box office.
  • A Commons area with colorful new contemporary furniture that gives students a place to study or relax.
  • A second floor catwalk that connects the art, music and theater wings.
  • A suspended Lily Pad Lounge for relaxation and socialization that hangs over the middle of the Commons.
  • New studio/offices for music faculty with state-of-the-art soundproofing and acoustical treatment.
  • Two shared computer labs, one with stage design technology and one with computerized piano software.
  • A digital photography lab with state-of-the-art computers and printers. The Department of Art and Art History has also expanded its painting, printmaking and photo studios and opened two new drawing studios and a dedicated screen printing studio.
  • A series of refurbished or expanded classrooms and studios for sound production, costuming, voice practice, theater graphics and stage management.

Sobolik says the new Robert and Elaine Stein Galleries are now her favorite space on campus. The gorgeous new galleries, located near the front of the building, take up two light-and-airy floors and can accommodate both rotating and permanent exhibitions.

The school has been fortunate enough to be given the Stein’s impressive private art collection; items from that collection can now be seen in a designated gallery. At the moment, about a dozen pieces from the Stein collection are on display, including their colorful Mark Rothko painting titled “Red on Pink on Yellow-Orange.”

Gallery coordinator Tess Cortes is understandably thrilled with her brand new addition. “We have much more space here, 11,000 square feet, ” she said. “It’s all new lighting and climate-controlled.” Cortes schedules four temporary exhibits each year as well as a student show. At the moment, she’s excited about a Sol LeWitt wall drawing that will be installed in the new gallery devoted to the Stein family collection as well as the current painting exhibition by Indiana University faculty members Tim Kennedy and Eve Mansdorf. The curator for that exhibit, which will be on display through Dec. 4, is Penny Park, associate professor of art at Wright State.

Another must-see is the new dance studio, which can also function as performance space. It includes pull-out seating, special lighting, performance-level sprung flooring and behind-the-scenes spaces for dancers — a Pilates room and dressing rooms. Because this new dance studio can also be used as a performance venue, you can expect to hear about more dance performances and guest artist appearances. The program plans to offer new courses and potentially accept more dance majors.

Senior Halie Ayers , who is specializing in modern dance, was in a jazz class on the day I visited. She chose Wright State, she explained, because the program was small and intimate and the faculty made her feel at home when she first visited the school.

“I love these windows,” she told me. “They give me more life when I’m dancing because of the beauty around me.”

A happy Bruce Cromer

No one is more appreciative of the new movement/stage combat studio than Bruce Cromer, best-known to those in our region as the actor who portrays Scrooge in the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” What some may not know is that Bruce is a graduate of the BFA Acting program at Wright State, had his first Stage Combat class at WSU and has spent more than 30 years doing everything from sword-fights in Shakespeare to unarmed fights in contemporary plays and pratfalls and rolls in comedies. He’s been a professor of theater and a fight director and combat teacher at Wright State since 1991.

“I still love to instruct new generations of stage artists to safely bash broadswords or quarter-staffs together!” Cromer says, adding that the Professional Actor Training Program at Wright State has always prepared the acting students in classical theater, in a wide variety of period styles. He says Stage Combat is an essential skill for employment.

“Our graduates have become fight directors and teachers, as well as actor/combatants working for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, on the Netflix series “Daredevil,” and for the “Resident Evil” films,” he says. “The majority pass the Skills Proficiency Test, adjudicated by the Society of American Fight Directors, before they earn their BFA Acting diploma. Male or female, they learn a new type of controlled commitment to scenes of physical conflict, which usually empowers their confidence and intensity in all of their acting.”

Cromer says that for him the new Combat Studio replaces nearly 30 years having to teach in a dimly lit, dusty, too small inhospitable space that was always taken away from the class when productions moved in and sets were erected. “My students became used to working out in the grass, hopefully in warm-enough weather, as they rolled, fell, threw punches, slung swords and quarterstaff,” he says.

Now, he says, his students are in a state-of-the-art space with floor-to-ceiling windows, a mirrored wall, a resilient wooden floor and a spacious closet for all of the staffs, small-swords, rapiers, mats, broadswords, knives, daggers, and assorted weaponry used in the class.

Homey music studios

At the conclusion of my tour, I was introduced to the director of the school of music — Randall Paul — and had the opportunity to visit some of the cozy new offices/studio spaces where music professors meet with their students one-on-one for private lessons.

Our guide was student Kaitie Welch, a trumpet player who plans to be a middle school or high school band director. “It’s nice to have a good space to practice in and take pride in,” she said. “The music sounds so much better acoustically.”

When we visited professor Jackson Leung’s beautiful office and commented on the elegant decor, he said he’d decorated with “whatever my wife doesn’t want at home.” Before the renovations, Leung said, musicians could always hear their neighbors performing. “Now we have much more space, it’s quiet and the temperature and humidity for my two pianos is artist quality.” The acoustic felt wall, he explained, is designed to keep the echoing down.

His first-year master’s degree student, Christa Johnson of Beavercreek, treated us to a piano piece by Ravel and said she loves being able to express in music what words cannot express. “Being able to do that well is fulfilling,” she said.

Kim Warrick, who coordinates vocal studies at Wright State, has an office covered with framed photos and excerpts of operas. She calls her attractive new office her home away from home. “We spend a lot of hours here, so it’s nice to have a wonderful place to spend those hours,” she said. “This room is a walk down Wright State opera’s memory lane.”

Summing up

Dean Sobolik says it’s been wonderful for faculty and students to watch the building process unfold over the past two years as the initial blueprints were turned into a completed building. “It took huge collaboration to bring this wonderful facility to fruition,” she concludes. “This is the front porch of Wright State and most of our community will come through this door to our creative house.”

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