A Theater for New Seasons
Renovations to Dillingham ensure a building worthy of its acclaimed program. by Samantha Allen ’11
The dank classrooms in the basement of Dillingham, the ones students jokingly referred to as “the dungeons,” will soon be history.
New York State has awarded the College $2.3 million, through its Higher Education Capital Matching Grant Program, to be used for renovations to the venerable building. The $10 million project will be funded by the grant, private donations, and ongoing College fundraising.
“Higher education is our best investment for New York’s people and our future,” says assemblymember Deborah J. Glick, chair of the New York State Assembly Committee on Higher Education. “We can be certain these institutions will remain in New York, and making them stronger helps all of us.”
It is the first major renovation to the Dillingham Center for the Performing Arts since it was built in 1969.
“This project is sorely needed to bring the quality of the facility into line with the quality of our theater program,” says President Tom Rochon. The Princeton Review recently ranked Ithaca’s theater program ninth in the country. (See “But We Knew That”.)
According to some students, the work is long overdue. Maria Malmros, an international senior journalism major with a minor in theater arts, said the rooms in Dillingham were too crowded.
“I worked in Studio 5, and there wasn’t a lot of space to move around,” Malmros says. “But I’d still take class there for the great professors.”
Lilly Westbrook, the costume shop manager, claims space was an issue for her work as well.
“We were literally bursting at the seams,” she says. “[The shop] was a classroom in the morning, a studio in the afternoon, and then a creative space in the evenings. Getting the creativity to thrive when you’re doubling up on everything is hard.”
Mary Scheidegger, coordinator of theater operations, says the renovations have generated a lot of eager anticipation.
“The benefits are untold, and it’s going to be exciting to see what we do with it in the future.” Scheidegger says. She added that when the building was initially constructed there were 70 students in the program. Today, over 300 students are enrolled, and the building needs to expand to accommodate them and enable future growth.
The Hoerner and Clark theaters put on six productions each year. Faculty and students believe the renovations will have an impact on the audience as well as the performance. Technological ugrades such as new communications equipment and an improved “fly” lighting system, will enable the technical crew to create more distinctive sets and onstage cues.
“Imagine how well-prepared students will be for their real-world jobs when they’re operating the same equipment in college,” Scheidegger says.
Additions to the building will also include two new rehearsal studios, new dressing rooms, two smart classrooms, two expanded and better equipped design rooms, new conference rooms, new elevators, and a modernized lobby. Everything will be handicap-accessible and energy-efficient.
The project is directed by HOLT Architects, who are incorporating green techniques wherever possible, including using recycled steel and flooring and low-emitting paints, adhesives, and finishes, and installing energy-saving lighting. The construction workers on site are also recycling appropriate materials.
Scheidegger believes the building will be unrecognizable to students who attended classes in the basement. “[Those rooms] were cold and barren and dungeon-like,” she says. “We’ve chosen lighting and decorations that have warmed up these spaces so that they won’t feel gray. It will be so much more inviting.”