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New black box theater opens in Rothwell

Theatric arts and dance students have found a new home in the bookstore turned black box theater, which they are calling “Little Lisser” while Mills’ historic Lisser Hall undergoes construction.

Little Lisser, recently built in the Rothwell Center’s former bookstore, features the lights, seating, cyclorama and lighting operation board from Lisser Hall. The smaller, centralized space is supposed to bring new performance opportunities and more accessibility for audiences.

The idea to recycle the space and the equipment came from Jim Graham, technical director and manager of the Rothwell Theater space.

“This is the original re-use project,” Graham said. “This is sustainability in action.”

According to Graham, the whole conversion process involved a semester’s worth of planning, outside contractors and assistance from a former student to finish the project by early July.

“It was remarkable how many things just fell into place,” Graham said.

He emphasized that this new venue would not have been possible without the high ceiling in the center of the room. This provided the perfect nook for the lighting system to be installed above the stage.

“If I could go back and thank the architects who designed the building,” Graham said. “Putting that very high ceiling in the middle of the room is really what made it all possible.”

Victor Talmadge, visiting theater professor and director of theater studies, is especially enthusiastic about the new theater.

“I was overwhelmed at how beautiful the space was,” Talmadge said.

After having taught at both Lisser Hall and now Little Lisser, Talmadge also said the new space will be “much more conducive to teaching theater.”

Staff and faculty aren’t the only people getting excited about the new space. Both new and returning students marveled at Little Lisser on the first day of class. First-year theater arts student Abby Halper was excited to work in the space.

“The entire space is just so awesome,” Halper said. “It’s also a smaller space so it’s not intimidating. It’s very comforting and accepting.”

One aspect in which Little Lisser differs from Lisser Hall is the stage. Some see this as a blessing and a curse, as the proximity to the audience creates not only intimacy, but an acting challenge for the student performers.

“Lisser Hall is a proscenium stage,” Graham said. “The audience sits on one side of the room and all the activity happens on the other, whereas Little Lisser is a thrust stage which has the audience on three sides, which changes how you relate to the audience.”

Little Lisser is located in the Rothwell Student Center, and staff and students alike are interested in the accessibility of the venue. Its location in the student hub of activity may prove helpful to any publicity and convenience for performances.

“It’s very well located for the kinds of events I could see happening in it,” Graham said.

As of now, it is undecided whether this space will still be used as a performance space after Lisser Hall construction is finished. With the smaller, more accessible space, students of all levels have speculated that the venue would be ideal for stand-up comedy, plays, open-mic nights and more.

“The sky’s the limit, just as long as we’re not going to have fire dancers on stage,” Graham said.