Out of the box: Performance Center opens for ‘Picnic’

Antonio King and Craig Belwood (left to right), who played Hal Carterand Alan Seymour, respectively, discuss a woman’s curves during Tuesday’s dress rehearsal of “Picnic” in the new USI Performance Center. Photos by Erin Hicks/The Shield

The construction has wrapped and the curtains have risen at the new USI Performance Center.

A crowd filled the 294-seat theatre for its premiere production. Prior to the showing of “Picnic,” an opening night party was held for distinguished guests, alumni and donors to attend.

“This is the first show. This building could be in use for 50 years,” said Elliot Wasserman, chair of the Performing Arts Department. “This is show number one and we’re very excited about it.”

From a ground breaking ceremony that had alumni performing “Brush up on your Shakespeare,” to a crowd of shovelers in Aug. 2012, to a “topping off” ceremony where people gathered as the last steel girder adorned its skeleton and a delay in the delivery of the last bit of sandstone, anticipation for the completion of the USI Performance Center has bubbled over the past few years.

The day leading up to opening night was packed with last minute preparations such as taking performance notes, adjusting count times and completing construction of the set.

“There’s a heightened appreciation for everything that goes right,” Wasserman said. “And then there’s heightened attention on anything we feel needs to be improved.”

Wasserman said he is excited to see the theatre complete.

“It’s a wonderful thing for the audience and you can see all the texture on the set and you can here what people are saying,” he said. “The sound is not amplified in any way; those were just the actors’ voices. The acoustics in here are really, really good.”

Wasserman said he can’t stress enough the quality of the $18 million facility.

“(The Performance Center) is probably the nicest of its kind anywhere in the state of Indiana and it happens to be on a college campus,” he said. “I’m hoping that the students will recognize that what they have here is really a very unusual and precious commodity and they will want to make a special effort to see theater on this campus and in this space. It really is remarkable.”

“Picnic” is junior theater major Samantha Prindle’s second production with USI Theatre. She played Jenny in the fall 2013 musical “Company” at Mallette Studio Theatre.

“Going from the Mallette where you can fit maybe 80 if you’re lucky to a stadium of 300 – there’s so much more energy,” Prindle said.

Prindle played the character Rosemary Sydney and she said she enjoyed getting out of the “little black box” that is Mallette.

“This space is absolutely incredible. I mean, it’s always good to perform in different kinds of areas because it gives you a different type of performance,” Prindle said. “Like in the Mallette, it was the black box theatre, so everybody is right there with you, and they kind of get the feeling of being in the performance as well as being with you.”

Prior to opening night, Prindle and the rest of the “Picnic” crew rehearsed in a studio located in the basement of the Technology Center.

“We went from basically having to mime everything and sitting on blocks, to an incredibly realistic set now that we have to work with,” Prindle said.

She said it was nice to finally have a spacious set decked with porch steps, a tree stump and a huge swing.

“With the huge stadium seating, it’s like this is just an actual theatre feel,” she said. “This is what I’m used to – auditoriums and theatres I’ve been performing in.”

She said the biggest difference was the “being on stage” feeling and the the larger audience.

“We feed off of the audience and what they do,” she said.

Craig Belwood said he anticipated sound issues based on his experience in the “black box.”

“It’s real different. We thought we were going to have a problem with the volume, because in the black box it bounces of the concrete walls and it just goes,” said the sophomore theater major. “But in here, you see the space, you see the set and there’s a lot more room to play.”

This is Belwood’s third USI Theatre production. He also starred in “Company” and the spring 2014 musical “Next to Normal.”

“We were really excited to get the doors and the railings so we can just play,” Belwood said. “There’s grass, we have a swing hanging form the ceiling.”

Belwood, who played Alan Seymour, said he sees himself, and the cast, making great improvements with the new Performance Center space.

King and Presley Roy, who played Madge Owens, show off their dance skills as Samantha Prindle and Logan Vickers, who play Rosemary Sydney and Howard Bevans, respectively, look on.

“It’s something we’ve been looking forward to and we really feel like we can perfect our craft since we’re in an actual, state-of-the-art theatre,” he said.

Belwood said he wants everyone to come and fill the Performance Center seats and get a glance of what USI can do.

“Our program is growing every single year and we have more people applying every single year, and if theatre’s an interest, come out, see if it’s for you,” Belwood said.

Tickets are $12 for USI students, $18 for adults, $15 for USI employees and $16 for seniors (60+) and non-USI students. The show continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. To purchase tickets or for more information visit www.usi.edu/theatre or call the box office at 812-465-1668.

“We are not in a big black box anymore,” Belwood said. “We can finally step out.”

From left to right: Melissa “Moe” Brown, Hannah Miller, Katie Jones, Leslie Alexander, Belwood, King, Roy, Vickers, Prindle and Licia Watson take a final bow.