NIU Theater School Adjusts to Season Away From Home

Sep 26, 2013

Credit NIU

Northern Illinois University’s Stevens Building is undergoing a long-needed renovation.  The project means that the NIU School of Theatre and Dance will be living in temporary quarters for the next two years.  It’s made putting on a season a lot more complicated.

David Booth is the School of Theatre and Dance’s Marketing Director. He and most other faculty and staff in the school have moved to Grant South, a vacant dormitory near the edge of the main campus. On the up side, Booth says, he’s in closer proximity to some fellow staffers than he was in Stevens, and he has an office with a window for the first time. On the other hand, he says,

“I’ve got the box office about three blocks from me. I’m used to sharing a door. All they had to do if they had a question for me was to open the door and ask me. Now they either have to get me on the phone or they have walk three blocks over here so we can discuss something.”

School of Theatre and Dance Marketing Director David Booth in his office at Grant South. Some of his staff here, some at the box office three blocks away.
Credit Guy Stephens / WNIJ

It’s even more of a workout for Lori Hartenhoff and her crew. Among her duties, Hartenhoff is the school’s costume director. In Stevens, everything was in a couple of rooms next to each other, and not far from the theaters and classrooms. Now, she says, they’re divided up among three floors.

“Down on the main floor, five rooms and one big room.  In the basement we have two rooms that are marginally useful. They’re small and skinny. And then up on the sixth floor, we have room with a view. It has a lot of windows, and it our makeup classroom.”

But, Hartenhoff says, they’ll get by.  

At least they’re in the same building. Terry McClellan is assistant director of the school.  He says some of its productions will be staged in the Diversions Room in NIU’s Holmes Student Center. That’s several blocks away. But others will need more room than Diversions can provide, and will be mounted at Huntley Middle School, several miles away on the south edge of DeKalb. To top things off, the shop, where sets and all that goes with them are constructed, is located in a building several miles in the other direction, on the east side of the city. McClellan says:

“I think we’re all suffering from a thing that I call location dysphasia, where you’re never quite sure where you’re at at any given time, but wherever it’s at, what you need is usually somewhere else, and the people you need to talk to and work with are usually in another place, too.”

McClellan jokes that he should probably get three tape measures, one for each location, so he’s never without one. McClellan says there is a silver lining in all this, at least for students looking to a professional stage  career:

“A lot of the theater I do outside of here doesn’t exist in a single building. It’s built in one place. It’s installed in another place just in time for rehearsals. The show runs and then it’s all taken away. So, this actually is probably going to mimic a lot of what our students are going to do once they leave here. So, this isn’t bad training."

While everyone feels the school is adapting pretty well, there is one other concern: the audience. David Booth says his office has been trying to make sure people know where the productions will be. For the smaller shows, Diversions will be the home. Booth says its location in the heart of campus is probably actually better than Stevens’.  But with the exception of the first play, the Mainstage series will be held at Huntley, and Booth says transportation to and from the site is a real issue. He says the school is working on arranging a special bus schedule, so students and others can get to the shows, and have a way to get back to campus afterwards. 

One of the rooms used by the costume shop. Another room used by the shop is only accessible through this one.
Credit Guy Stephens / WNIJ

Booth says there’s one more down side to all this-it’s all temporary:

“Next year, we’ll have figured out all the issues and problems. But then we’re going to have to change everything back, once we go to Stevens. The new routines are going to be old routines, and then new ones are going to have to be established for the new facility. So it’s going to be very interesting over the next five years.”

But that’s not stopping anyone here. In the best tradition of theater, they’re following the old adage:  the show must go on.