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Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center provides ultimate theater experience

a midsummer nights dream
State University Theatre performs "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center proscenium theatre.

Theater students can put on a first-class/world-class production thanks to the recent addition to the Performing Arts Center. After the addition was completed, it was renamed to the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center.

Students now perform in the new, state-of-the-art proscenium theater, which seats about 850 people. Emerging from the ceiling is a large chandelier that lights and can change colors, that gives audience members the full high-class theater experience. The front of the stage has an orchestra pit that lowers or raises as needed for performances.

Dressing rooms, a green room, storage areas and a costume shop are nearby. A set shop is also close by, allowing scenes to be moved easily into the theater.

Across the hall from the glowing proscenium theater entrance is a dance studio complete with mirrors and a floor specifically engineered for dancing. Next door, there are two rehearsal rooms where students can practice and read through scripts.

J.D. Ackman, the School of Performing Arts’ director of theater, said this world-class facility, in conjunction with a strong faculty, will prepare students for a future in theater production.

“It [the addition] really is going to offer opportunities for not only our performance students, but our students interested in tech and design to work in a top-notch facility with all the bells and whistles,” Ackman said.  “A theater program is only as good as its people. We had a pretty good program with our 100-year-old facility; we just had some challenges. This facility really allows for more creative opportunities.”

With the School of Performing Arts being under one roof, students and faculty can now collaborate in ways not possible when located in several buildings. Ackman said there have been discussions of holding operas or large musicals due to the full orchestra pit. Those performances were not possible in their old performance space, Doner Auditorium.

Olivia Davis, a sophomore theater major from Brookings, has been performing on campus since she was 4 years old. Her parents met at SDSU. Her mother went into labor with her during Capers auditions, so you could say she was “born into” the theater program.

“My mom would set up a play pen for me during rehearsals,” Davis said.

She enjoys the new spaces, especially the dance studio.

“I can’t imagine as to what it would be like to be out in the audience to see how different it is from one space to the next,” Davis said. “There is so much that this new space has to offer us. I can’t wait for incoming freshmen to see what kind of stuff we’re doing in this new facility because I can imagine we are going to be able to do some pretty insane and sweet things now that we have all this technology.”

Corey Shelsta is a professor of theater at SDState. The designer said students get to use technology that applies to all levels of theater, from both large and small productions. Shelsta said that the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center is the most advanced facility of its kind in the region.

“It’s one of the best facilities in the region. You would have to go pretty far to find this at a university. There’s really nothing in our region like this,” Shelsta said. “This provides our students the opportunity to work on some really good equipment, to work on the kind of equipment they would see after they graduate and are working in their job, whether it’s in theater or you’re interested in doing a touring production or if they want to go on and teach at a high school or a university.”

The Broadway musical “CHICAGO” opened the proscenium theater with three performances.Students were able to learn from cast members during their time on campus.

Peter Lockyer stars as Billy Flynn in “CHICAGO.” He said the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center is great for the campus and the community.

“I think that any community that invests in the arts like this is going to see more rewards than just seeing some shows inside a theater, which is great for me, but I think it fuels the community of creativity and so many other endeavors … creativity in businesses, creativity in being an entrepreneur,” he said. “If you have creativity in your community, you are going to inspire kids; you are going to inspire each other to think in different ways.”