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Facility will unite classroom, rehearsal and performance spaces for the JMU's award-winning theater, dance and music programs
By Chuck Taylor ('84)
JMU cast performs contemporary comic opera "Review" at the National Arts Club in New York City. Standing left to right: Andrew Austin, Randall Ball, Megan Steigerwald, Frank Mavilla, Leah Hill, Megan Sill, Mattia D'Affuso. Below, left to right: Dorothy Smith, Sarah Davis and Amber McKinney.
Performing the premiere of Jeremy Beck's Review at a Feb. 19 benefit for the Center for Contemporary Opera in New York, was no doubt electrifying for the students of JMU's opera and music theater program, but the promise of that same electricity awaits performers and audiences alike on campus with the opening of the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts this fall.
"This is the quality that we produce routinely in all of our performances and programs," says George Sparks, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. "In the Forbes Center, we will be able to render production values of an equal quality as our performances."
Located across Main Street from the Quad, the sophisticated, high-tech facility for the first time unites classroom, rehearsal and performance spaces for the university's award-winning theater, dance and music programs in a dedicated space. The benefits are enriched learning opportunities and a visible commitment to liberal arts. Just as important is the rich experience it will offer for audiences.
Don Rierson, director of opera and music theater for JMU's School of Music, explains that the center will bring more exposure to the university's B.A., M.M. and D.M.A. performance programs than previously possible. "The students are so excited about the world-class acoustical design. And we will now have the community's first state-of-the-art facility, where we can invite important figures in modern music and theater. It will do wonders for our reputation on a national scale. I can't underestimate its value."
Mattia D'Affuso, a JMU freshman from Torino, Italy, pursuing a double degree in Vocal Performance and Italian, appreciates the intimate environment in Harrisonburg, but says that the promise of the new performing arts center was a major draw when he decided where to study: "The people are so nice and the city is gorgeous. I've found it to be a very welcoming environment. While our facilities are modest now, we're all looking forward to the opportunities that a major venue will provide to express ourselves."
Likewise, Master's in Music candidate Leah Hill, believes that "because of the size of our program at JMU, we have so many opportunities to perform, which at a large conservatory wouldn't be possible." The Forbes Center, she agrees, will offer a centralized facility for study, rehearsals and performances. "We have some obstacles now with acoustics and a single space where we can focus on all of our needs. I know that this big, beautiful new complex will provide pride for the school, while attracting people from all over the region to our events."
Andrew Austin, who has spent the last decade music directing and conducting for theaters and universities nationwide, returned to JMU recently as a Masters in Music candidate. As music director for the New York production of "Review," he says "the timing was perfect to bring this talented group of undergraduates and graduates to the city, with the new facility opening soon. The new space will bring the facilities up to the level of the performances, and will make a tremendous difference for the program, the students and the community. We've never had a true main-stage concert space with state-of-the-art acoustics. I think educators will respect the School of Music more because of this grand facility, while we're also able to attract more talent.