SCAD Theaters, in Three Acts
Who doesn’t love entering a darkened theater, hushed and inviting, the atmosphere charged with what’s to come? There’s something solemn and sublime about it; churches and temples and theaters most definitely share a sacral quality. As a teacher in the public elementary schools of Atlanta (when SCAD was but a dream), I transformed my classroom by constructing a petite stage, where my young students recited poetry, delivered spirited speeches, and performed original musicals. Even in our tiny little classroom, I wanted the students to feel that energy that fills the room when the curtain parts and the audience cheers.
Now, nearly 45 years after my father and I constructed that stage, the university I founded in 1978 is home to six theaters — with nearly 4,000 seats among them. Filling these theaters every year, every week, are festivals, performances, and showcases celebrating SCAD degree programs in film, television, fashion, animation, performing arts, and more. Today, more than 13,000 students experience the magic of these theaters, along with tens of thousands of community members and guests.
ACT ONE — Prelude
The story of our SCAD theatergoing experience commences as you approach the playhouse and first espy winking lights in the distance. This Art Moderne marquee of the Trustees Theater shines a beacon visible from both ends of Savannah’s Broughton Street — all ten blocks. In the late 1990s, when SCAD rehabilitated the empty Weis Theater (now Trustees) and the abandoned Levy Brothers department store (now Jen Library of SCAD), anchoring the eastern end of this once-busy downtown shopping street, Broughton was reborn.
Just around the corner from Trustees Theater, the marquee of SCAD’s Lucas Theatre for the Arts, forming a portico over gilded doors, can’t help but beckon one’s attention. In 1926, this early 20th century vaudeville house became the first public building in Savannah equipped with “man-made weather technology,” known today by its less grandiose name: air conditioning. Nearly a century later — and all year round — audiences enjoy concerts, films, and live performances at this nearly century-old SCAD playhouse.
At SCAD Atlanta, pedestrians discover SCADshow, its mighty marquee shining a light in Midtown’s flourishing Arts District. In many ways, SCAD theaters function as one of the primary public faces of the university, the first impression of SCAD for visitors and new students. These SCAD theater exteriors brighten their blocks in Atlanta and Savannah, letting passersby know that powerful stories await them inside.
ACT TWO — Passage
The second act of our theatergoing story transports audience members from city street and into the lobby — an intermediary space between everyday life and immersive theatrical experience. The lobbies of our university theaters often provide community members with their very first glimpse of a SCAD interior — and make a grand impression. The lobby of SCADshow contains three signature touches: comfortable seating, spectacular lighting, and beautiful art, all of which (in every SCAD building around the world) is created by SCAD students, alumni, and professors. Even before the show begins, we want guests to pause and say, “Wow!” Here at SCAD, we’re raising curtains and expectations.
This vibrant, pop art lobby welcomes guests to Mondanaro Theater, our intimate black-box performance space in Crites Hall at SCAD Savannah, home to degree programs in performing arts, production design, and themed entertainment design. Student performers, writers, directors, and designers fill the lobby throughout the day, on their way to and from studios and classrooms, greeted by this playful, energetic space that is reflective of their classroom experience. The stars shine bright for the future luminaries of SCAD.
A short walk from Crites Hall and the Mondanaro Theater is SCAD’s Pei Ling Chan Garden for the Arts Amphitheater, an intimate performance space for literary readings, talks, musical and other performances. Guests enter the theater through this enchanting garden.
The virtual world of digital media meets the very tactile world of interior design in the lobby of the Digital Media Center at SCAD Atlanta, home to degree programs in animation, motion media design, television producing, visual effects, and more. Oxidized tin (repurposed from an antebellum railroad shed) creates an unmissable “lobby moment” before visitors enter the DMC Theater.
ACT THREE — Story and Spectacle
The final and most important movement in the experience of SCAD theaters is what happens when you push through that final pair of doors and take your seat. This image, taken from the balcony of Trustees Theater, shows a packed house for the highly anticipated I Saw the Light. Year after year, films in the SCAD Savannah Film Festival earn Academy Award nominations and wins for their filmmakers, such as Mahershala Ali, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor a few months after Moonlight screened at Trustees.
In any SCAD interior, it’s always a good idea to look up. The ceiling of Trustees Theater features a gilded ceiling, which hovers above the audience like the underside of some ethereal spacecraft. The medallion is illuminated with recessed lighting, creating a mesmerizing effect for those who turn skyward before the show. Great theater should be an otherworldly experience.
SCAD has long been internationally recognized for its attention to architectural detail, earning countless architecture and design rankings and awards from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, UNESCO, American Institute of Architects, and others. Looking up before a show, audience members find this ornate neoclassical medallion on the ceiling of SCAD’s Lucas Theatre, whose interior reflects an array of historic architectural styles, notably Greek Revival, Adams, and art deco.
Arnold Hall, home to the SCAD School of Liberal Arts, features this classic proscenium stage. The backstage area of Arnold Hall Theater is surprisingly deep, for in its former life, the theater stage doubled as a cafeteria and gymnasium for one of Savannah’s first public high schools. Today, this space is utilized primarily for gymnastics of the mind, hosting standing-room-only lectures by The New Yorker’s Louis Menand, Adventure Time’s Jack Pendarvis, and iconoclastic public intellectual Stanley Fish, as well as civic celebrations, such as the Savannah Women of Vision, pictured here.
The SCAD Museum of Art, the most award-winning teaching museum in higher education, features a theater and lecture space — ground-zero for deFINE ART, an annual program of lectures, exhibitions, and public events featuring the world’s greatest contemporary artists. Above, percussionist and vocalist Madame Gandhi performs an inspiring concert for SCAD students during deFINE ART 2017. SCAD deFINE ART 2018 featured a double exhibition by legendary collaborators Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller.
The iPhones come out to play when guest artists step out onto the SCAD stage. Here, actor Sir Patrick Stewart captivates audience members during a recent SCAD Savannah Film Festival. These conversations, led by SCAD faculty members, take place every day and night of the festival, where students have the privilege of asking questions of some of the world’s greatest filmmaking talents. At SCAD, our theaters are a lively arena for student-centered learning.
For the first weekend of every February, television’s top talent gathers at SCADshow for aTVfest in Atlanta, Georgia — in the heart of the world’s busiest region for film and television production. Recent SCAD aTVfest guests include Alan Cumming (Instinct on CBS) and Zach Braff (Alex, Inc. on ABC), who held masterclasses with SCAD students throughout the weekend. In this photo, the cast of The Buzz, SCAD’s Emmy Award-winning student sitcom, discuss their production process on the mainstage at SCADshow.
The largest performance arts venue at SCAD is the Lucas Theatre in Savannah, with 1,237 seats. Beautifully rehabilitated by the university — far beyond its original art deco grandeur! — this historic 86,000-square-foot theater offers 4K digital cinema projection, Dolby Digital surround sound, and a full complement of theatrical lighting to illuminate live productions of dance, theater, music, and more. Lucas was the perfect space for the recent multimedia dance performance Oasis by SCAD performing arts students, incorporating a pool of water as a central feature of its set.
SCAD students learn to tell stories across mediums, from live theater and television to animation and AR/VR. The recent SCAD production of Ragtime, drawing together student talent from more than a dozen degree programs, brought the house to its feet.
As much as our community loves the historic enchantment of live performance, SCAD remains focused on the future of the entertainment arts, in all its digital majesty. Above, students at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival enjoy a 3-D screening of Trolls before its nationwide release.
DENOUEMENT — Celebration
The ultimate purpose of all SCAD theaters is tripartite: to provide engaging learning experiences for SCAD students, to showcase student talent for the professions they’re entering, and to draw the community together in a celebration of beauty and story. My dream of SCAD has journeyed far since that tiny stage in an elementary school classroom so long ago, but the joy and energy remain the same, throughout the years, and across the myriad stages of SCAD.
Tours of SCAD Savannah happen Monday through Saturday, at 9:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M., for visitors to Savannah, prospective students and their families, and anyone with curiosity about our preeminent university for creative careers. Tours start at Poetter Hall, home of the SCAD Welcome Center, and can be tailored to guest interests. If you’re not near Savannah, don’t worry! SCAD hosts tours at all university locations, including Atlanta, Lacoste, and Hong Kong. Chances are, SCAD has a location on the continent where you’re currently reading this. Next time you’re in our neck of the woods, drop in for a visit!