DeBartolo Center enhances teaching of the performance arts

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Peter Holland and Craig Cramer predicted that performing arts instruction at Notre Dame would be significantly enhanced by the opening of the Marie P. DeBartolo Center. But the first performance venue built on campus in 100 years and officially opened 100 days before Christmas 2004 also has become, for some faculty, the gift that keeps on giving.

“It is thrilling to come to work in the performing arts center each day,” said Holland, the Film, Television and Theatre (FTT) department chair. “We now have the facilities we need.”

The 150,000-square-foot teaching facility is home to FTT and the Department of Musics orchestra, Glee Club, chamber orchestra, ND Chorale, and organ program. Performance venues include a 900-seat concert hall, 350-seat theater, 200-seat cinema, 100-seat black-box performance space, and 100-seat hall designed specifically for a handcrafted 2,550-pipe organ.

In addition to the five performance venues, all of which double as instructional spaces, there are classrooms, editing studios, a recording studio, a scene and prop construction shop, a sound stage, costume shop, design lab, lighting lab, and music and theater rehearsal halls.

At the end of his first semester teaching in the center, Holland noted that there is yet a great deal to learn about how to teach in the new facilities.

“We are on a steep learning curve, but the excitement will not let up,” he said.

Benefits to FTT students, according to Holland, have been enormous.

“Film classes can now screen film extracts and have lab screenings on a big screen instead of a TV monitor,” he said. “Students now see film as film, not as something cut down (in ratio and size) for TV. They edit their films in excellent separate editing suites. Our theatre students make scenery and costumes in superb shops. They are able to direct their class projects for directing courses in a state-of-the-art black-box theatre.”

Senior FTT major Mike Dolson recalls less-accommodating digs in Washington Hall last year. “Its now a lot easier to load sets. We now have a full size garage,” he said. Dolson, who hopes to have a career on stage after graduation, predicts the new facility will attract talented students and scholars to Notre Dame.

Cramer, professor of organ in the Department of Music, expressed similar excitement about the centers Reyes Organ and Choral Hall.

“It is one of the most significant organ facilities in the United States,” he said.

The room was designed around the acoustics.

“They are almost ideal for the organ,” Cramer said.

Built by Paul Fritts of Tacoma, Wash., the organ is “one of the finest teaching instruments in the country,” Cramer said.

After his first semester of teaching organ in Reyes Hall, Cramer confidently places Notre Dame at the vanguard of organ and sacred music.

“The students are thrilled, and they have adapted very quickly to the new organ,” he said. “A fine organ is a great teacher.”

Both Holland and Cramer credit the DeBartolo Centers executive director, John Haynes, and his administrative team for support of their program goals. “I would not trade them and their vast experience for anything,” Cramer said. “It has been a smooth transition, and from where I sit, I cannot think of a better place to work.”

“The one challenge that was unforeseen in planning,” Holland said, “was dealing with all the visitors who desperately want to see the space when some of us are trying to work quietly in our offices on weekends.”

The DeBartolo Centers director of audience development, Tom Barkes, was pleased with first semester response to the new performance venues.

“Each space got raves from its audience,” he said.

“Performers have been overheard saying word is getting around that this is a special place to play.”

Students are visibly energized by their new learning laboratory, and performing arts faculty members are staying after hours and showing up on weekends.

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