Greenberg Theater celebrates 10th anniversary

Greenberg Theater celebrates 10th anniversary
Harold Greenberg (right), speaks to AU professor Gail Humphries Mardirosian, who directed \"Cabaret\" this year in honor of the Greenberg Theatre\'s 10th anniversary.

In late March 2003, the Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre in Tenleytown opened, finally giving a massive home to the Department of Performing Arts at AU.

The theater gave the department the ability to perform large-scale shows, and it increased the amount of resources that could spur new and innovative performances.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the theater, and celebrations included a gala where Sylvia Greenberg (daughter of D.C. housing magnate Abraham Kay, for whom the Kay Spiritual Life Center is named) was honored. Her husband Harold, who also shares the Greenberg namesake, passed away in 2009.

The DPA also reprised the first show ever done in Greenberg (and Sylvia’s favorite musical), “Cabaret.”

View a slideshow from this year's production of Cabaret

AU professor Gail Humphries Mardirosian directed the Greenberg Theatre’s first full-length show, creating a full-circle moment after having directed the first show in 2003.

With a 300-seat capacity, 700 square feet of dressing room, 2,400 square feet of space for the production and scene shop and 1,600 square feet for the costume shop, the Greenberg Theatre revitalized the way the DPA produces shows.

Before Greenberg opened, the DPA had been forced to use lackluster facilities, like the Clendenen Gymnasium that doubled as a theater at the time (demolished in 1985 to make way for the Jacobs Fitness Center), which was in deplorable condition, blighted with rats and leaking ceilings.

“[Clendenen] and where [Katzen Arts Center] stands was a building literally made out of tin that housed a gym, a big basketball court, and by the time I got here it was also semi-condemned,” Caleen Jennings, a DPA professor, said. “So we had an upstairs floor that we could use and we used it to teach acting classes and . . . the assumed theater group would do shows in there.“

General plans for a theater being installed at AU went as far back as 1988, when there were initial plans being drawn up for a theater to be installed on the main campus. But until Greenberg gave a gift of $2 million to the University to build the theater, plans could not come to fruition.

“One thing that’s a paradox . . . I think it’s the brilliance of the way the space was designed. Yes, it’s way bigger than the Studio [Theatre in Katzen], but it’s got an intimate feel,” Jennings said. “You could be in the very last row and feel a part of the action.”

The Greenberg Theatre has been home to many of the department’s plays and musicals, from Jennings’ adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays from “Hip Hop Much Ado About Nothing” in 2004, to “M4M (Measure for Measure),” to Pete Townshend’s “The Who’s Tommy” and Alfred Jarry’s “Ubu Rex,” directed by professors Javier Rivera and Cara Gabriel, respectively.

“They are hard workers, extremely collaborative,” said Rivera, an assistant professor in DPA.

Rivera also spoke about Barbara Tucker Parker, Greenberg’s costume designer.

“She’s sort of built an empire in the basement of the Greenberg, so it’s just fascinating to go in there and get lost, “ Rivera said.

Parker custom-makes every costume with her assistants for the choreographers and the directors. Each show produced in the Greenberg Theatre is given a unique approach to ensure spectacle and quality.

The Greenberg Theatre was a vast improvement over the former Experimental Theater, where Kogod stands now, and the current Katzen Studio Theatre, built in 2005. Greenberg, for a time, was the department’s only performance venue from 2003 to 2005. Humphries Mardirosian, the person who pushed for the theater to be placed, mentioned the importance of having a full-scale theater at the department’s fingertips.

“It is [a] pure delight to direct in the Greenberg with so many options at your fingertips when interpreting the text. It is also very important for our students,” Humphries Mardirosian said. “They get a variety of opportunities for refining their craft as actors, as well as working with all of the technical dimensions that the Greenberg offers for lighting, sound, set, costuming and management opportunities.”

Humphries Mardirosian, who was one of the people instrumental to getting the theater built, said that Greenberg allowed the department to expand its horizons.

“With the Greenberg Theatre, we tripled the audience potential for each night, and that was glorious,” Humphries said.

At 10 years, the Greenberg Theatre hopes to ensure at least one thing for the future of performing arts at AU: the show will go on.

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