Since its grand opening 10 years ago, the Hatfield Hall Theater has become a hub for student creativity on campus, as well as being a source for inspiration and pride throughout the community. Performers and patrons commonly refer to the facility as the “Little Jewel of the Midwest.”
Students have showcased their acting, singing, and dancing talents in such elaborate
theatrical productions as The Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Amazing
Technicolor Dreamcoat, and, this spring’s musical, Chicago.
A performing arts series has brought a variety of entertaining shows to campus, including the Russian National Ballet, Tony Award-winning actor Hal
Holbrook, and world-famous opera baritone Nathan Gunn.
Hatfield Hall Manager Bunny Nash,
who organizes these performances, is guided by the question, “What is a good
artistic program to expose our students to?” Then, she seeks “artists who are at the top of their field, innovators in what they do.”
That was the case this fall with the Cirque Mechanics’ dazzling Birdhouse
Factory show, which had been on Nash’s “wish list” for eight years. A stroke of
“luck and timing” brought the acro-
batic group to campus for two nights of shows—with its large-scale mechanical
systems, featuring platforms, wheels, a trampoline, and tightrope walking.
“We have started adding more popular programming and larger productions,” Nash says. “We’re taking more risks.”
Drama club productions have become ambitious and high-tech, taking advantage of the engineering skills found on and off stage. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor
Dreamcoat featured towers with programmed banks of LEDs and large rearprojection technology. The Wizard of Oz was an engineering feat with pyrotechnics and elevators (for the melting witch). And, there was a 22-member technical crew behind the scenes to assist with Frankenstein.
Some technical aspects of productions have been part of senior-year robotics projects. A robotic boat, with wireless controls, was featured in a dramatic scene in The Phantom of the Opera, last spring’s musical. There was also a studentdesigned pulley system for the infamous chandelier that crashed to the stage in the show’s climax scene.
“A lot of technical directors wonder, how do you build a robotic boat? I never worry about that here,” says Greg Stump,
Hatfield Hall’s technical director. A civil engineering background helps him work with students to solve high-level design problems.
The question for Nash and Stump now is: How do you top this? The bar has been set high.
“Challenging the kids is the reward because they always come through,”
The same is true for the student performers, who aren’t majoring in theater,
music, or dance. The institute doesn’t have a theater or music department, and
students do not receive academic credit for their stage work. Nash feels fortunate to have high-quality students on campus.
“Our students have always been
painted and considers the building her “second home.”
“Most of my friends have resulted from my association with the drama club and Hatfield Hall,” Agner says. “I met my boyfriend there. It’s like my little family.”
She’s not alone. Several marriages have blossomed from the Hatfield Hall stage, and the theatrical experiences have benefited alumni during their science, engineering, and business careers.
“On our Facebook page, we’ll always have students say, ‘I miss Hatfield Hall’” Stump says. “That’s why we do it!”
Marianne Messina is Rose-Hulman’s web
content director and attends nearly every
Hatfield Hall show.