A university-owned, historic church building, previously used as a nursing school, was reborn through conversion into the university’s new 350-seat drama theater. Connected by a scene shop, the second theater in the complex is a new black box addition, which doubles as a classroom and as an experimental theater for smaller productions.

The two-story sanctuary space had been framed over, and the spectacular beauty of the barrel vault ceiling had been hidden with laid-in acoustical tiles for office use adaptation. For the renovation, the building’s auditorium interior was stripped back to uncover features of the original sanctuary and balcony. Working from the old, original documents, the design team was able to duplicate the building’s styles of mouldings, doors, and window casings.

Major modifications were made to the audience chamber seating configurations to improve sightlines, including removing the floor to install slope-rack seating. In a stroke of luck, the sanctuary’s original chandelier was found and rehabilitated to its former grandness. For the stage, a proscenium arch and fly tower were created with the removal of the back wall.

Most of the original exterior façade was retained with the exception of the steep monumental steps that led up to the main audience level. Curving twin staircases now mirror one another for a safer and more graceful entry, also allowing street access to the lower level’s main lobby.

Photos: © Vince Wallace/Silver Hill Images