A big win for UVA!!
Steve Warner has a long and successful history of finding unique opportunities for his students to learn and thrive beyond the classroom and his UVA workshops. In 2013 he and his students made a big splash with The Stan Winston Arts Festival of the Moving Creature, a partnership with the Stan Winston School of Character Arts in Los Angeles that inspired the creation of a variety of larger-than-life creatures that became well-known around Grounds and in the community. Then in 2019, Warner partnered with the founders of Bennett’s Village, an all-abilities playground that will soon be located in Charlottesville’s Pen Park. They created a Halloween to remember by designing and building “costumes” that incorporated participants’ physical circumstances and gave them a chance to both stand out and fit in on a holiday they might otherwise miss out on.
This year, even in the midst of a pandemic, Warner was at it again, shepherding a team of students through the USITT-ASTC Venue Renovation Challenge. This national competition was created to intrigue theatre designers and technical directors with the possibility of pursuing a path in theatre consulting by having to consider an array of elements that go beyond a production and make for a great venue for performance.
The competition challenged teams to create a comprehensive redesign of a space located on their respective campuses that would make it a vibrant and needed addition to the school’s arts landscape. The UVA team began as six architecture students, two with technical theatre experience during their time on Grounds, and each bringing their own passion and expertise to the project. They finished as champions, winning the competition’s top prize, the ASTC Edgar L. Lustig Award.
The team did not have to look far for inspiration when choosing their project. Jackson Key, a resident of Brown College, passed the UVA Amphitheatre nearly every day. The 1921 structure is a landmark on Grounds, yet one that the team noted in its presentation, serves today as “more public ruin than vibrant social hub.”
The vision that earned the judges top honors is a transformative one that takes the space from relic to revelation and that would provide student groups at the University with a much-needed, accessible, state-of-the-art performance space that could accommodate live performance, speaker’s series, and more.
Each team member brought different strengths and backgrounds to the table, as well as different levels of experience within the world of the arts. Key and Tim Victorio both had extensive experience working on UVA Drama productions. Caitlin Kreinheder has danced since she was two, she said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in theatres and on stages, so this project allowed me to combine my studio art minor and my architecture background, which was really exciting for me.”
From a proposed excavation to improve sightlines for audiences to a reconfiguration of the existing stage to a technical infrastructure that will include a network of catwalks and trusses above the performance space to a backstage large enough to accommodate scene shops, rehearsal and storage spaces and dressing rooms – this project was the result of big thinking and careful design and featured crucial contributions and complete dedication from every team member.
The team’s internal collaboration was supplemented by the chance to work with various mentors in the architecture and theatre worlds, both on and outside of Grounds. “It is always great when we can pull outside entities into a project like this that can help inspire students,” Warner said. In this case, the team worked with noted theatre consultant Damon Atwood, who set aside time to carefully review the proposal and offer suggestions, and with Kim Corbett Oates, the theatre consultant provided by the competition. The support system also included faculty from the School of Architecture at UVA. “People were pulling us in different directions,” team member Oliver Church said, “which at times can be a little overwhelming, but it was definitely a good experience, and that wide range of opinions from different areas of expertise helped us greatly in the end.”
“The School of Architecture faculty definitely pushed us to break out and take the site beyond what it currently is,” Oliver Church said, “while giving us some fun ideas about our competition style that was really helpful. Then Damon and Kim, as well as UVA Drama Department professor and lighting designer Lee Kennedy, were really helpful in telling us what we need to be thinking about from a performance angle.”
The big reveal of the winners, Kreinheder said, was appropriately COVID-era strange. “Tom, Jackson, and I were able to be in Campbell Hall in the same room for the announcement. Everyone is sitting there with their mics muted, and there was this moment of, did we actually, just win this?”
Warner hopes the exercise might one day bear fruit on
Grounds. “The competition has really created a buzz around this project. There
are so many student organizations that would benefit from a space like this,
and I am excited to see where the idea might go!”
- Oliver Church (Arch '22)
- Catherine Henebery (Arch '22)
- Jackson Key (Team Leader)
- Caitlin Kreinheder (Arch '22)
- Tim Victorio (MArch '22)
Steven Warner (Faculty Mentor)