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R-MC celebrates new performing arts center

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Ribbon for the R-MC's new performing arts center.

Donors and college leaders cut the ceremonial ribbon for the college’s new performing arts center. Below, Randolph-Macon College President Robert R. Lindgren speaks during the new performing arts center’s dedication ceremony.

Randolph-Macon College (R-MC) recently held a weekend of celebration to recognize the opening of the school’s new Center for the Performing Arts, which offers an exciting expansion to the school’s variety of performing arts programs along with a beautiful open space for students and faculty to enjoy.

Originally built in 1952, the Blackwell Auditorium was the primary hub for the school’s arts and activities and has hosted special events and performances for 70 years in the R-MC community, including regular performances by the Richmond Symphony and the Ashland Musical Variety Show.

With an expansion to the school’s programming in the performing arts, the need for additional facilities was identified and construction began in the fall of 2020. The school held a soft opening for the new center in the fall and has since utilized it throughout the spring semester.

The newly renovated Blackwell Auditorium now flows into the 19,000-square-foot performing arts center and includes an enlarged lobby, sound and light lock entrances to separate the lobby from the performance space, ADA-compliant platform seating, an improved sound system and a drop-down projector screen.

The center also features a separate Cobb-Kesler Studio Theatre that can seat up to 140 guests, Haun Rehearsal Hall, drama classrooms, a scene shop, offices for faculty and more.

On April 29, around 250 attendees visited the Randolph-Macon Center for the Performing Arts to celebrate the facility’s official opening, dedication and various donors that helped make the new space possible. Invited guests enjoyed a cocktail reception along with performances by the Jazz Improvisation Lab and a scene from “Peter and the Starcatcher,” followed by performances by R-MC’s concert choir, chamber singers and the LUXE Show Choir.

Friday’s ceremony was only the beginning of a weekend of festivities, with lively performances held in the new space throughout the weekend. Saturday’s performances yielded a full house of attendees and alumni, including the Kesler family, Cobb family and Dr. Larry Haun. The Blackwell Auditorium featured two performances in the afternoon by R-MC’S instrumental ensemble and LUXE Show Choir followed by a performance of “Peter and the Starcatcher” in the Cobb-Kesler Theater.

Sunday’s program featured another performance by the LUXE Show Choir along with the return of the Richmond Symphony, who offered a powerful performance titled “Mozart and More.”

Dr. James Doering, professor of music and chair of R-MC’s Department of Arts, said the center features plaques and pictures from productions, concerts and other events over the years. He watched as alumni wandered around the new space during the weekend’s events and found themselves in the photographs.

“This was the way the weekend was … kind of celebrating the past but really looking forward to all the potential of the future,” Doering said.

He said some of the most exciting features of the new building are the intricately-designed spaces specifically for theater and music, such as the scene shop for students to build theater sets and the state-of-the-art Haun Rehearsal Hall designed for sound clarity, which houses exceptional acoustics.

“We haven’t had a space specifically designed for music performance here on campus,” Doering said. “…I think that’s something you could immediately tell walking into a rehearsal – how everything just kind of went up a level for students, because they were now in an area where they could really hear what they were doing and could build on that.”

“The energy has gone up exponentially” among students with the new facility, Doering said, especially following a pause in performing arts and overall campus activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he has already seen students taking advantage of the building’s various lounge areas and open spaces to practice, study or socialize.

R-MC President Robert Lindgren said the new facility offers the ability to expand the school’s growing performing arts program, which includes the theater program; two choral ensembles, the concert choir and chamber singers; instrumental ensembles such as the Randolph-Macon Ensemble, Jazz Improvisation Lab and others.

“So the exciting part about this is that we could expand our performing arts programs and offerings to students and have facilities that could accommodate that expansion,” Lindgren said.

Both Lindgren and Doering said the new facility will not only benefit music and theater majors but all students interested in the performing arts.

“The performing arts now have a home at Randolph-Macon,” Doering said. “And that doesn't just mean for students that are here to major in music or theater… Students might be majoring in the sciences but they still want to sing or they still want to play their violin, and that's something they can do here. And the space is inviting and gives us a spot to do that in ways that benefits all of campus.”

“It’s nice to have both additional faculty and the opportunity for students to participate,” Lindgren said. “And then of course, as they participate and as they perform, they create programming that’s a benefit to both the Randolph-Macon community but also to the greater Ashland community and beyond.”

R-MC finished up their final performances of “Peter and the Starcatcher” this season, which were held in the Cobb-Kesler Theater from May 4 through 7 following the weekend’s dedication ceremonies.

With this season’s school performances coming to a close, Doering said to “stay turned for exciting events next year” as they begin to fully utilize and grow within the new and improved space and plan for upcoming productions.

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