Lawrence’s Black Box theater receives renovation

Caitlin Williamson

Although the renovation of Cloak Theatre in the Music-Drama Center has not drawn nearly as much attention as the ongoing construction of the campus center, the revamping of the black box theater is just as important to the Lawrence theater community.
The renovation, which began this summer and will be completed later in the term, has changed the orientation of the theater from a “three-quarter thrust” to a “proscenium arch,” which — for those who are not theater majors — means that the audience is now seated on one side of the room, rather than three.
Although the new setup will resemble that of Stansbury Theatre, Cloak will remain as intimate a theater as ever, according to Associate Professor of Theatre Arts and J. Thomas and Julie Esch Hurvis Professor of Theatre and Drama Timothy X. Troy.
“It will be a very different feel than Stansbury, even though they’re both audience on one side, stage on the other,” Troy said. “The intimacy of Cloak will not be lost at all.”
Junior Nikko Benson, who has been involved in several plays and musicals in Cloak, cites this intimacy between the performers and the audience as his favorite part of acting in the black-box theater.
“You can feel people watching you — they’re right there, your audience is right next to you,” Benson said. “You can see the way they’re reacting, whether or not they’re enjoying something or are upset by something. Being able to feel the energy that close to you makes a performance that much more intense.”
Cloak Theatre is one of the oldest black-box theaters in the United States; although it has been debated whether it is the very first black-box theater, no one can deny the fact that it was way ahead of its time.
It was built in 1954 under the direction of Lawrence’s theater department founder Theodore Cloak.
Black-box theaters differ from other theaters in that they are small, flexible, experimental spaces. According to senior theater major Peter Welch, the old orientation of Cloak had been in place far too long.
“The [renovation] will be good,” Welch said. “There’s a lot of hesitation about it but a black-box theater is meant to change, and that orientation had been there for 10 years and that’s far too long for a typical black box theater.”
Last year, the faculty of the theater department agreed it was ready for Cloak to change. The change will not only provide a new challenge to student actors and directors who are familiar with the old space, but also will provide an efficient space for the theater classes that are taught in Cloak.
“It becomes not only a better performance space, and more square footage of stage, but it becomes a better classroom,” Welch said. “One reason for the change comes from the desire to educate better on how to act in a proscenium arch stage.”
The new orientation of Cloak Theatre will provide a challenge to the number of seniors who use Cloak for senior projects, which has doubled from what it used to be, according to Associate Professor of Theatre Arts and James G. and Ethel M. Barber Professor of Theatre and Drama Kathy Privatt.
“The reality is we have a lot more senior projects than we used to,” Privatt said,” which means that that space is going to get used a lot more.”
For his senior project, Welch will be directing winter term’s “Pillowman” by Martin McDonagh, as well as the student-produced musical “When the War is Done” by Marie Celine Lachaud in the spring.
Although some students are hesitant about the new Cloak, the theater department faculty is confident the new space will not only be efficient for classes, but will also allow students to be more creative in their use of the space, and it will still be as intimate as ever.
“It still has that black-box theater quality where the audience is not separated from the actors,” Welch said. “It should be able to bend like any other theatrical thing — like you change the lighting for every show and the costumes for every show. In a black-box theater, you change the theater.