Prospect of creative connections stirs up anticipation for new theater building in Arts District

The Lantern
The Drake Center was the home of the Department of Theatre since first opening in 1972. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin

On her first day at the Drake Performance and Event Center, Jo Fuller, a graduate in theater, had no idea her biggest challenges in the building would have nothing to do with theater itself.

Throughout the next two years, while pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in theater design, Fuller said the Drake Center exposed her to everything from mold to faulty air conditioning. At one point, she and her peers were instructed to work from home indefinitely due to stifling heat.

“It was never a place that I thought was ornate enough to almost deserve the beauty that we were putting on inside of it,” Fuller said.

The Drake Center was the home of the Department of Theatre since first opening in 1972, according to its website . It houses both event and performance spaces.

However, the Drake Center’s days are numbered, as it hosts its last events April 2, according to its website. The community will host its farewell celebration April 21. The removal of the Drake Center is part of the university’s Cannon Drive Relocation projects , which will create a flood protection levee alongside the Olentangy River.

Construction is underway on the new Theatre, Film and Media Arts building, which will be a part of the College of Arts and Science’s new Arts District, located on 15th Avenue and High Street, according to the CAS website .

The new building brings with it numerous new creative opportunities, Brad Steinmetz, associate professor of scene design and technology, said.

“The university was very smart,” Steinmetz said. “When the process began, instead of just saying ‘Oh, let’s design a theater,’ they hired a consultant architect to look really closely at what the department needs were.”

As a result of such consideration, the new building will have features like a sound recording studio, professional green screens and to Fuller’s excitement, a costume shop properly ventilated with windows. These, she said, showcase some of the many creative elements that weren’t feasible at the Drake Center.

Fuller said her thesis show, “Blood Wedding,” will be one of the first productions to premiere in the new theaters, and her role as costume designer has made her particularly appreciative of the many technological advancements within the new building.

“They give us the opportunity to do more,” Fuller said. “It certainly opens up a whole new world of possibilities.”

Ladini Wallace, a fourth-year in theater and the scenic and props designer for “Blood Wedding,” said she is optimistic that the new building — which neighbors the Timashev Family Music Building and the Wexner Center for the Arts — will be a social hub to foster creative connections between other fine arts departments.

“As someone who works in multiple mediums, it allows for a lack of stagnation in ideas,” Wallace said. “It’s very inspiring to see how other creative people think and how their craft functions.”

With the design processes already ongoing for “Blood Wedding” and “She Kills Monsters,” the other production to debut the new building, Steinmetz said there has been immense excitement generated among students and staff.

Although the Drake Center brought difficulties upon Fuller during the beginning of her graduate school program, she – and all other students – will begin in the fall 2023 semester with the new Theatre, Film and Media Arts building, capable of cultivating creative collaboration.

“I think my greatest excitement is about the collaborations that will now be possible because of our facilities and our proximity to collaborators,” Steinmetz said. “Having all of those really skilled, adjacent artists will be, I think, a fantastic way to revitalize and expand the programs.”

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