A Look Into The Oates Theater Renovations

By William Fallon

Oates Theater, Collegiate’s performance venue built in 1993, is getting a renovation. After 25 years of many performances—plays, musicals (most recently the Upper School fall musical Guys and Dolls), speeches, and distinguished speakers from around the world—the theater will get its most significant upgrade to date. In the past, the theater has had a few renovations, but nothing compared to the upcoming improvements and construction, which will start December 19 and last throughout the summer of 2018. “We are coming on 25 years now, and really haven’t had any major renovations, so we need to upgrade the theater to current standards,” says Collegiate’s Director of Facilities Management and Construction Scott Carson. “We will be one of the premier midsize venues in central Virginia when it is all said and done.”

Sketch-up view from either side of the renovated theater.

The theater currently holds five hundred and sixty-six seats and will expand to over seven hundred after renovations. The main flooring of Oates currently all angles in the same direction, causing some audience members to crane their necks to focus on the central part of the stage. The renovations plan to alleviate this issue and create a whole new concrete deck, as Carson describes. It “Will be shaped like a scallop… allowing all of the audience to have a direct focal point on the center of the stage.” One of the stand-out upgrades to the theater will be its balcony. The renovation plans create a balcony using beams already existing within the venue, and it will include a few rows of seats and give a tremendous view of the stage.

Oates Theater, currently painted a dull grey color, will introduce a warmer feel and have a new paint coating throughout the venue. Accessibility to the stage for people with disabilities and wheelchairs is relatively challenging right now. One must leave the theater to travel the side hallways and enter through the side stage doors. However, with the new renovation, a ramp will create easy accessibility. The theater’s sound and lighting system will improve substantially, as the tech booth is currently working with a 25-year-old plasma lighting system. The new upgrade will change to an environmentally-friendly LED lighting system with many capabilities. The installation of acoustical paneling wrapping all the way around the theatre will significantly improve the acoustics and enhance the quality of the sound. Combined with a new sound system, spread out to distribute sound, the theater will provide an outstanding experience.

A view from the new balcony.

The construction all starts on Tuesday, December 19th and will continue all the way through next summer. If everything works as planned, Oates Theater should be ready for the 2018-2019 school year. Due to the construction, events scheduled in the spring will move elsewhere. The Winter Play will take place in the Octagon of the Academic Commons, the Spring Play will be off-campus at a local venue, and the Upper and Middle School assemblies will take place in the Seal Athletic Center. When asked about Senior Speeches, Upper School English teacher and Senior Speech Coordinator (and Match advisor) Vlastik Svab said, “Assemblies and Senior Speeches will still be taking place in Oates, and as of right now we will have sound and projection capabilities. Performances, like a band, probably won’t be possible in Seal, however. We’ll know for sure what will be possible, technically, in Seal once we start back in January.” According to Carson “On the southern side of the gym, we are going to install a projector and attach a drop-down screen at around midcourt.” Students will take seats in the southern drop-down bleachers and at the southern ends of the side drop-down bleachers. For those worried about poor sound quality in Seal, Carson stated “the sound system installed in Seal about a year-and-a-half ago, when we redid Seal, will take care of all of our sound, and other than the venue change, everything should be relatively the same.”

Construction in the Hershey Center for the Arts will not take place during the school day; instead, work will happen between four o’clock and midnight on school days. Temporary trailers and a work area will sit on the front lawn at the main entrance of the Hershey Center. All construction vehicles will be electric or fueled by propane tanks to prevent diesel and gasoline fumes from entering the rest of the Hershey Center, which will continue to have day-to-day arts classes. Along with air quality monitoring, each day before school the entire air system will be flushed to make sure that nothing will affect air quality within the center. Plywood will be placed down in the theater lobby to make sure students have a safe path to walk to classrooms. Teachers will help guide and watch students as they walk through the construction areas to ensure safety.

By this time next year, the theater should be truly outstanding and will no doubt provide an enjoyable theatrical experience. As of right now, some faculty, guests, and students have trouble finding a seat during assemblies, but with the increased capacity, that will no longer pose an issue. Tymoff+Moss Architects, who did an excellent job with the construction and renovations of the Academic Commons, McFall Hall, Reed-Gumenick Library, and Centennial Hall, are leading the Oates Theater renovations.

Images by Tymoff+Moss Architects via Scott Carson.

About the author

William is a Junior at Collegiate.