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UNH Hennessy Theatre Gets a Sustainable Extreme Makeover

January 21, 2009

If the year 2009 signals an era of change, then the Department of Theatre and Dance will embrace that sentiment with gusto. Since 1960, the department has utilized two performance spaces in the Paul Creative Arts Center; The Johnson Theatre, a 700- seat proscenium theatre and The Hennessy Theatre, named for William G. Hennessy, retired professor, faculty director and first advisor of the student theatre organization, Mask and Dagger. 

The Hennessy was a black box, experimental theatre space. In the late 1990’s the space was reconfigured as a 150 seat proscenium theatre. 
Having two proscenium theatres did not allow for variety in performance possibilities or expose student actors, designers and directors to distinctively different working conditions. Because of this, the Hennessy Theatre has been newly reconfigured as an experimental, black box space.

During winter break, theatre majors Christine Boutin, Matthew Frazier, Stephen Badger and Jerard James Craven joined theatre technician, Robert Henry and associate professor and technical director David Ramsey in tearing the theatre down to bare walls. During the next 11 days, they built a new performance space, designed by professor Ramsey.  Ramsey, who has been involved with the construction and/or renovation of six other theatres, created a theatre “as close to a flexible space as possible, which still has good visibility for the audience.”

 “The renovation of this theatre is a model of ‘sustainability,’ said department chair and associate professor Deb Kinghorn. “The majority of the construction in the new space is recycled from the old or made from materials already in the scene shop.  The platforms, risers, staging, even the carpeting and chairs, are recycled.”  The materials that did not make it into the final configuration were dismantled and put into the scene shop for future use. 

The result is an entirely different working area for current directors, designers, actors and theatre technicians. One of the differences between the new Hennessy and the original is a raised platform stage, instead of a concrete floor, which enables dancers to use the space without fear of injury. 

The first production to christen the new space is “Shoulders,” directed by Kinghorn and running April 22 through 26.  The set is designed by Ramsey.

Visit http://www.unh.edu/theatre-dance/hennessy for a complete history of the Hennessy Theatre, to listen to an interview with professor emeritus John Edwards and view a slide show of the renovation.

For more information about the program, call the theatre and dance office at 2-2919, or visit us at www.unh.edu/theatre-dance.

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