Does the new Fusion Theatre in downtown Monmouth signify progress for Monmouth College?
Monmouth College theatre professor Doug Rankin believes it does, for many reasons.
Rankin was asked to comment on the new space now that that the theater’s first show – “The Awesome 80s Prom” – completed its successful run earlier this month.
“The technical side is probably 100 percent better,” he said, comparing the Fusion Theatre to the former WIT Theatre, a space that had been created in the lower level of “HT,” the building that once housed the Haldeman-Thiessen Science Center. “The lights are at the ideal angle, and you can put them where you need them. There’s room for everyone in the tech booth. The biggest difference is all the extra space we have now.”
Two of the four “Prom” performances drew standing-room-only crowds, with approximately 150 patrons filling the 115-seat blackbox theatre.
“It went better than we even expected,” said Rankin of the first production.
That pleasant surprise carried over to Monmouth’s students.
“The students who worked in the show were blown away by the theatre’s quality and flexibility,” said Rankin. “They were very surprised. Most of them hadn’t seen it until it was almost done.”
“Almost done” still describes the new space, which is located in a former retail store at 230 South Main St. Rankin said some flooring, wiring and track light installation remains to be finished, but those minor projects should be completed in advance of the Fusion Theatre’s grand opening, which is tentatively scheduled for May. The opening will coincide with a spring children’s show by the Buchanan Center for the Arts and an art exhibit in the lobby by Monmouth College professor emeritus Harlow Blum.
Rankin is glad the college was able to find a new venue for a blackbox theatre after HT was closed.
“A blackbox lends itself to more creativity,” he said. “A proscenium (such as the college’s Wells Theater) tells you what you can do. But you can tell a blackbox what you want it to do. You can move the seats and move the stage, and audiences can be surprised every time.”
Rankin and longtime theatre professor Bill Wallace were in on the ground floor of the planning process for the Fusion Theatre, molding the basic plans created by the Galesburg architectural firm of Metzger-Johnson into “what would work best for us,” said Rankin. “It designed itself in a way … it just came together and naturally worked.”
Although the college’s 2014-15 season has not yet been announced, Rankin said the Fusion Theatre will be “used extensively.” The space will host the Galesburg Festival Theatre and an art exhibit next month, and Rankin anticipates it being a popular space for summer theatre groups, music groups and film festivals, too.