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Many Talents Shine on Hatfield Hall Stage

Friday, June 07, 2013
Man with face paint and woman in a ballgown stand on stage
Dazzling Productions: Rose-Hulman's drama club has allowed students to showcase their acting, singing, dancing, and technical talents in a variety of crowd-pleasing productions, including Phantom of the Opera. (Photo by Samantha McGranhan)

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 referred 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 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 "bucket list" for eight years. A stroke of "luck and timing" brought the acrobatic group to campus for two nights of shows-with its large-scale mechanical systems, featuring platforms, wheels, a trampoline, and tight-rope 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 rear-projection 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.

Happening Place: Celebrating its 10th year, Hatfield Hall hosts a variety of campus events each year. The list includes convocations, performing arts and drama club shows, and music concerts.

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 Phantom of the Opera, last spring's musical. There was also a student-designed 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 are you going to top this? The bar has been set high.

"Challenging the kids is the reward, because they always come through," says Stump.

The same is true for the student performers, which 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 extremely talented and overachievers," she reports. "You never have to worry about students learning their lines-they learn their lines and everybody else's lines."

Rachel Agner, a computer science major, uses her artistic skills to paint the elaborate sets for each stage production. She visits Hatfield Hall throughout the day to see if anything needs to be 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!"