School of the Arts

Upstage Theater Renovations Complete


IU South Bend’s Upstage was in dire need of remodeling. The carpet installed in 1982 was stained, torn, and had holes. The Upstage looked more like a construction site than a place where students rehearsed and had class. A fuzzy beam was exposed and curtains were ripped and dry rotted.

Tim Hanson, area coordinator and assistant professor of theatre, saw a need to remodel the space. The Upstage was not something you wanted to show a perspective student. “We wanted it to be a place the faculty and students could be proud of,” Hanson says.

Funding to renovate the Upstage and Northside’s Recital Hall began with a matching grant from the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County, a generous gift from Ernestine M. Raclin, and contributions from IU South Bend.

In remodeling the upstage the most practical thing to do was to make it into a black box theater.  A black box theatre “does not have to have anything but the basics of what a theater absolutely needs, which is a place for the audience and a place for the action,” explained Hanson.  This is why a black box theater can be made out of almost any space in a building. The black box theater is easily built and maintained with very basic technical arrangements.  The theater’s interior is all black, “so black boxes lose their old identity and become a neutral space,” says Hanson. It has often been considered a place where theater in its simplest form can take place.  Audience seating is often arranged on risers that can be reconfigured to suit a particular performance or removed entirely to give students a place to rehearse.

Hanson led a team of students in redesigning the space.  Working with Jeremy Williams, resident stage manager, and Carl DeBruyn from facilities management, the work began during the summer of 2010. Students contributed their ideas and labor to the remodeling of the Upstage.  Students wanted a space they could be proud of and wanted to be a part of making that dream a reality.

After some initial asbestos removal by the university, the old carpet was taken up revealing a tile floor. In order to make the Upstage into a black box theater painting the upstage black was one of the biggest jobs, because the color is essential to what black box theaters are. Theater student Marlon Brunley spent a good part of his summer painting the ceiling, walls, and fixtures black. 

During the beginning of the fall semester, one of the biggest jobs involved theatre students and faculty. Four thousand pounds of sprung dance floor arrived in several crates.  The students gathered around Hanson and in a single day the new spring floor, which can be used for dance, was installed. The floor was painted black and the new black box theatre began to take shape.

“Before the renovation there was no sound system for the room,” says Hanson. This meant whenever the room was used they had to piece together a system from old equipment that was not quite up to par for a black box theater . The lack of equipment also made it difficult to teach the technical side of shows.

The lighting was a hindrance, because “before we had a large cable that ran through a hole in the wall from the main auditorium and used circuits from there. We couldn’t use the two systems at the same time” says Hanson.  Carol DeBruyn from facilities management worked with the team to bring power into the room.  Now for the first time, the Upstage had its own power source and lighting system so performances can take place concurrently on the main stage and in the black box theater.

New risers and audience seating arrived during the spring semester, so student began sitting on stable seating for the first time in years.  New black curtains were installed along the windows and walls, a handicapped ramp was installed, and the new control room was completed.

The remodeling of the Upstage made it a versatile space for performance and teaching. The black box theater will be host to plays, dance recitals, and small concerts.  The black box theater adaptability is appealing to all, because it allows for a variety of staging styles.  With this adaptability Hanson hopes, “dance recitals and classes will be able to be hosted in this newly remodeled space.” Many performances have taken place in the black box theater already. The Euclid Quartet performed and a play, The Good Doctor both took in the newly remodeled area.

Allie Wheaton, a theater student says, “I really am proud of the space and all the work that went into making it what it is now, which is a place where many students will learn to grow as actors and actresses.”

The black box theater allows for “many opportunities to see a show in an up close and personal way. Also it has allowed us to have a production taking place in the main auditorium as well as in the black box theater. Many students now have a chance to participate in shows,” Wheaton says.