If you were to have stepped on to the stage during the renovations at the UALR University Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts this summer and looked around, you would have probably seen Jeff Wright of Little Rock high up in the rafters, wearing a hardhat and tearing out pulleys or Natalie Clark of North Little Rock hauling out pounds of pig iron. Granted, there’s nothing unusual about seeing people in hardhats during a renovation; it’s just that these workers happen to be UALR students.
Wright, who majored in liberal studies, minored in theatre and will begin a masters degree in liberal arts this fall, became involved in the renovation through his relationship with the theatre faculty. “I got involved in the renovation project through the theatre faculty. I’d held a variety of roles with the department in various productions, and our technical director knew of my interests in the technical aspects of theater,” he said.
Clark is a sophomore construction management major whose heart lies in the theater, not in buildings. Faculty met Clark after she took two classes in the theatre arts and dance department, including one in stage production. “I don’t want to build buildings but sets in Hollywood,” she said. “I talked to a construction coordinator in Hollywood who told me that a degree helps, but it’s experience that counts.”
The students assisted the construction firm, Mainstage Theatrical Supply, in revamping the stage, including the installation of a partially motorized arbor system. This renovation required a massive tear down of the obsolete rigging system. “The rigging system is the network of pulleys and cables that allow us to ‘fly’ in and out the various drops, backgrounds or other set pieces you see during the play,” said Wright. “My biggest role in the renovation was to basically spend many hours fifty feet in the air and tear out and reinstall new pulleys known as blocks.”
Besides gaining an extensive knowledge of a rigging system, Wright’s experience with the renovation provided some personal growth. “I overcame a distinct fear of heights, at least as it pertains to standing fifty feet in the air,” he said.
Clark’s main tasks included measuring and cutting aircraft cable, which connect the arbors to the battens or pipes and putting all the shackles on the tops of the arbors. “What I’m learning is definitely pointing me in the right direction as to what I want to do as a career,” she said, “I really love theatre and love being there.”
Renovations didn’t stop at the stage. Two classrooms were overhauled with brand new technology that will give students experience in real-world applications in the theater profession.
“Room 225 is a design laboratory and is now equipped with state of the art computers and software for the study of scenic, lighting and costume design,” said Jay Raphael, chair of the Theatre Arts and Dance Department. “Room 226 is a classroom used primarily for the Introduction to Theatre and Dance courses, which are integral to the university’s core curriculum. Both rooms are outfitted with the latest audio/visual teaching technologies, including high resolution digital projectors, brand new computers, Blu-ray players, and sound systems. Our students will be learning on equipment that more closely approximates what they will find and asked to be knowledgeable about in the professional workplace.”
The renovations will be complete when the UALR campus opens for the fall next week.