The lobby of the new Ruth Caplin Theatre at UVA was still filled with hard hats yesterday as workers rushed to ready the state-of-the-art theater for its big debut performance of You Can’t Take it With You this evening.
Tom Bloom, associate professor and chair of the UVA drama department, says that the unveiling will be both a “huge relief and a thrill” after eight years of planning and approximately two and a half years of construction, which ran right up against opening night deadline.
Construction of the innovative theater and expansive Jeffersonian lobby, which conjoins the new theatre with the Culbreth Theatre and the Helms Theatre, was largely funded by a 4 million dollar gift from Mortimer Caplin, a UVA alumnus of the College of Arts and Sciences and UVA Law. The theater is named for his wife, a supporter of the arts.
Plans for the 300-seat theater were modeled after the work of pioneer architects Sir Tyrone Guthrie, Oliver Rea, and Peter Zeisler, who are responsible for the design of the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, and also the vomitoriums of Ancient Greek and Roman ampitheatres (vomitoriums are actually tunneled passageways that allow actors to travel on and off stage rapidly, not the fabled rooms for decadent feasters to purge). These “vom” entrances, the thrust stage, and the steeply sloping seats, all allow the actors and audience members to see each other clearly, and afford a sense of intimacy.
Though the architecture’s inspiration may date back millenia, and the serpentine windowed facade is a historic nod to Mr. Jefferson, the Caplin boasts cutting edge staging technology, including a digital IOS lighting and audio control panel, a high-definition projector for film screenings, a sprung stage for dance performances (one of Ruth Caplin’s favorite art forms), and automatic shades that can dim the theater’s natural lighting at the touch of a button, whenever the plotline takes a dark twist.
You Can’t Take it With You premiered last night in a private performance honoring the contractors and builders who brought the theater into existence, and will open to the general public this evening.
The play will run April 18-20 and April 24-27, all performances are at 8pm. Tickets are $14 ($12 for seniors, UVA staff, and alumni association members; $8 for students), and are available either online or by calling 434-924-3376 or at the UVA Box Office, located in the lobby of the Drama building.