Ribbon-Cutting Kicks Off Weekend Dedication of RMC’s Center for the Performing Arts

News Story categories: Cultural Arts Music RMC Up Close Theatre
Theatre students performing on steps in front of Blackwell.

Appreciation for the College’s vibrant arts community took center stage during the official dedication of Randolph-Macon’s new Center for the Performing Arts. The event featured performances by RMC’s musicians, singers, actors, and show choir—a testament to the variety of outlets and opportunities for artistic expression available at Randolph-Macon.

Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony began a weekend of celebrations honoring the important role of performing arts in the Yellow Jacket community. Invited guests and donors were treated to music by the Jazz Improvisation Lab and a scene from “Peter and the Starcatcher,” directed by Janet Hayatshahi, assistant professor of theatre arts, at the cocktail reception celebrating the event. At the official ceremony, the crowd was wowed by Randolph-Macon’s concert choir and chamber singers, directed by Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Loida Pineda, and to a performance by the LUXE Show Choir under the guidance of Director Adam Pulver. 

“The ongoing transformation of campus has been fascinating to watch, and we are excited to come together now to celebrate another jewel in the crown of this special campus—our new performing arts center,” said Board of Trustees Chair Sue Schick ’84 at the opening of Friday’s private dedication ceremony. “The new 19,000-square foot building, along with the restored auditorium, provides our students with the best of both worlds: the combination of artistic discipline and training with the intellectual rigor and scholarly breadth of a liberal arts education.”

Dr. James Doering, professor of music and chair of RMC’s Department of Arts, recalled the shoulders on which today’s faculty and students stand, recognizing the contributions of professors in the arts who helped to build the program.

“The Blackwell building has had an iconic presence on this campus for over 70 years, and probably everyone in this room can point to a special event that this venue hosted in their past: a concert, a play, a speaker,” Doering said. “Those kinds of experiences will, of course, continue, but what’s now possible, and in ways that were simply not in the past, is that—with the newly constructed spaces—we have transformed this multi-purpose venue into a broader hub for engagement with the performing arts.”

President Robert R. Lindgren spoke on the importance of philanthropy in helping the College thrive, recognizing the newest President’s Society inductees and providing special thanks to the College’s generous donors, without whom the Center for the Performing Arts would not have been possible. He noted the extraordinary contributions of Macon F. Brock Jr. ’64 and his family, Dr. Jackson ’59 and Betty Kesler, Maria and Peter Rippe, Sidney ’48 and Elizabeth ’48 Matthews, Larry Haun ’61, and Harold Duke.

“And there are so many others,” Lindgren said before officially dedicating the building. “You all have demonstrated your belief in the mission of Randolph-Macon by your philanthropic spirit, and this in turn raises our aspirations to new heights. We could not have restored this auditorium and added a beautiful new wing without your support, and we thank each and every one of you.”

Saturday’s events will commence with an afternoon performance by RMC’s instrumental ensemble in Blackwell Auditorium. Dr. Brian Coffill, assistant professor of music and founding director of instrumental ensembles at RMC, shared his excitement for how the Center for the Performing Arts has already impacted the lives of student-performers.

“The students carry themselves in a different way,” Coffill explained, in advance of the event “This weekend we will perform outside, on balconies, in the lobby, and on stage. We have so many new areas to explore how to be creative in, and that’s exciting—for arts students and faculty to be able to inhabit a space that’s created just for them. It really makes a difference.”

The LUXE Show Choir will resume the stage in Blackwell Auditorium Saturday and Sunday with a performance of “A Mother’s Love,” a moving story about love, sacrifice, and finding life’s purpose on one’s own unique and personal journey. The LUXE Show Choir’s unique blend of vocals, choreography, instrumentation, costumes, staging, and production finds a perfect home in the multidisciplinary Center for the Performing Arts, a connection not lost on LUXE Show Choir Director Adam Pulver.

LUXE show choir performing on stage.

“Oftentimes on college campuses, you find that a lot of departments can be spread throughout different buildings in different areas,” Pulver said. “It’s such a unique and beautiful experience to see that there is an actual center for the performing arts. Students are able to grow and feel that they can walk into a building, and right then and there they have an amazing opportunity for growth.”

Originally built in 1952, Blackwell Auditorium’s remodeling includes an enlarged lobby, sound and light lock entrances to separate the lobby from the performance space, ADA-compliant platform seating, a revamped sound system, and a drop-down projector screen. Alumni and faculty were able to reminisce on arts events of the past while anticipating the exciting changes to come in arts programming at RMC.

The weekend also kicked off a week of performances in the Cobb-Kesler Theater for “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a play that fills in the backstory for Peter Pan, Mrs. Darling, Tinker Bell, and Hook. The theatrical staging by RMC’s theatre students is an opportunity to showcase the vast remodeling in what was previously called Cobb Theater. Once located at the back of the original Blackwell Auditorium, Cobb-Kesler Theater now includes a state-of-the-art control booth, a tension grid, and acoustic draperies.

Katie Dodge ’24, a theatre and arts management double-major, plays Mak/Teacher in “Peter and the Starcatcher.” She’s also a scene shop assistant and spends many hours learning, studying, and rehearsing in the new Center for the Performing Arts. A sophomore, Dodge is grateful for the time she will get to spend in the new dedicated space among other like-minded student-performers.

“When I first came to Randolph-Macon,” Dodge said, “the theatre program was in the process of transitioning to a new building, so I’ve gotten to see how we were super spread out to now having a permanent home where people can have classes and hang out, and where we can rehearse in this beautiful theater.”

Fittingly, the dedication weekend also welcomes the Richmond Symphony to Blackwell Auditorium. The space has long been Ashland’s home for the symphony. Under the direction of conductor Nicholas Hersh, the symphony will perform “Mozart & More.”

With the official christening of Randolph-Macon’s Center for the Performing Arts, Yellow Jackets can now share this new hub for performing arts that rivals any other in the state. As guests to Friday’s ribbon-cutting departed the auditorium, President Lindgren anticipated their return. “You’ve been a part of this grand opening. Now, come back again and again and again!”

Join the Legacy

The Robert G. Cabell III & Maude Morgan Cabell Foundation have generously offered a $500,000 challenge gift to help RMC complete fundraising for the Center for the Performing Arts. Gifts made by December 2022 will be matched by the foundation dollar for dollar. We hope you will consider a gift to support this important endeavor.

All donors of $1,000 or more will be recognized with gratitude on a plaque in the building or with a named seat in Blackwell Auditorium. Flexible payment plans are available.

If you would like to make a gift over the phone, arrange a larger gift, or have questions, contact Senior Director of Institutional Partnerships Robert Patterson at (804)752-3605 or robertpatterson@rmc.edu.