Homecoming Panel Explores Potential of New Laboratory Theatre

Posted on September 30th, 2021 by

(From left to right): Panelists Michele Rusinko, Karla Leitzman '13, Jacob Korver '23, and Terena Wilkens discuss the new Gardner Laboratory Theatre. Picture Credit: Kelsey Backer

During Homecoming, alumni and their families gathered in the new Rob and Judy Gardner Laboratory Theatre to listen to panelists discuss the opportunities the new space makes possible.

Panelists included long-time dance professor Michele Rusinko, theatre alumna and current advancement employee Karla Leitzman ’13, theatre major Jacob Korver ’23, and Continuing Assistant Professor in Theatre and Dance Terena Wilkens. 

Located next to the new coffee shop, aptly named STEAMery for the intersection of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, this black box theatre allows for a space for theatre and dance students to experiment and grow their craft. “STEM becomes STEAM, and we’re so proud that that brings the physical manifestation of the liberal arts here in this building,” President Rebecca Bergman said in her opening remarks.

“How better to live into our vocation as a liberal arts institution than to physically, literally, in every sense of the word connect our arts and our sciences,” Leitzman said. “We know that our theatre and dance students experiment, too, and the work that is done on this side of the building is equally academic and rigorous and challenging, and that we have space and facilities to reflect that is quite remarkable.”

The Gardner Lab Theatre was years in the making. “It really was a dream that we wanted a space to experiment, a space that would really capture the energy of all that we do,” Rusinko said.The first show in the Gardner Theatre was You’re Invited with the Moving Company in February 2020, and the Spring Dance Concert was in tech rehearsals when the college shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the space was used all of last year for classes and rehearsals/filming, no live performances were held.

Korver shows off the new LED lights in the Gardner Theatre. (Picture Credit: Kelsey Backer)

Korver started his journey at Gustavus at the same time as the Gardner Theatre. As a lighting design and craft focused major, he’s gotten the opportunity to work with the new lighting technology available. Korver demonstrated the capabilities of the new lighting system to the audience, showing off the color-changing LED lights and lights that can move around alone, without a spotlight operator. “It opens the world for lighting design,” he said. “It lets our creativity run wild without us having to worry about how we’re going to make this happen.”

In planning for the new space, accessibility was a major priority. The dressing rooms, bathrooms, showers, and the control booth are all accessible. Starting this year, there will also be assisted listening devices available in the Gardner Theatre, Anderson Theatre, and Wallenberg Auditorium.

All Theatre & Dance productions this year will be performed in the Gardner Theatre. In future years, Anderson Theatre and the Gardner Lab Theatre will alternate semesters as performance and teaching spaces. The other theatre/dance spaces are also being updated: Anderson has an upgraded light board, the plugs/cables will be updated, and the seats are also being replaced. The Black Box has a new floor and a new LED lighting system. 

If you are interested in a virtual tour of the Rob and Judy Gardner Laboratory theatre, contact Karla Leitzman at kleitzm2@gustavus.edu.


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