About this time nine months ago, Collegiate School’s Oates Theater was a shell of its former self, with construction underway for a transformation that would someday allow more students, faculty, parents and Richmond-area guests to enjoy the space and its offerings.
That day has come, and nearly 200 Collegiate community members and supporters visited campus this afternoon to be among the first to tour the expansive venue (located inside Collegiate’s Hershey Center for the Arts) to see firsthand how worthwhile the renovation has been.
“We are very excited to celebrate the reopening of Oates Theater," said Steve Hickman, Collegiate’s Head of School. “For 25 years, Oates has been an essential part of school life, impacting young people of all ages. With this renovation and expansion, it will be ready to serve our community for many more years to come.”
With the seat count growing from 566 to more than 700, and with the addition of new lighting and sound systems, the theater is projected to do just what Mr. Hickman envisions.
Oates has become a vital part of Collegiate’s curriculum and will be used numerous times throughout the school day for assemblies, performances, special events and classroom instruction when school begins next week.
While faculty or students sometimes stood in overflow sections during assemblies and programs, the newly renovated space can seat the entire Middle School student body and faculty at once or the entire Upper School faculty and student body.
“We’re so grateful to our many alumni, parents, grandparents and friends who partnered with us to make this dramatic renovation possible,” said Kristen Williams, Collegiate’s Vice President of Development. “We are delighted about the learning and creativity that our students will be able to more fully experience in this signature building on our campus."
Middle School Drama Teacher Jenny Hundley, who joined Collegiate’s faculty in 1991, two years before Oates was built, echoed Mrs. Williams’ sentiments.
“When I came there was no (theater) space,” Mrs. Hundley said. “We held our classes and performances in Memorial Hall (now named McFall Hall). This is a new chapter for the theater department and for the School.”
Today’s event included music performed by a special Collegiate band put together by Collegiate Director of Performing Arts Mike Boyd, featuring 8th Grader Matthew Woodhouse on drums and alums David Crutcher ‘13 on keyboard and Ben Kelly ‘14 on the bass. Collegiate Band Director Bryan Hooten also performed with the group.
Collegiate alum Waverly King III ‘68 enjoyed the band’s melodies as he stood in the last row of the theater, near a seat bearing a nameplate emblazoned with his moniker and that of his late brother, William King ‘76. “This sound is just amazing,” he said, marveling at the acoustics.
The renovated theater also boasts improved sight lines to the stage and enhanced fly systems. A contemporary scalloped bowl design and enlarged balcony not only allows for additional seating, but also some contemporary style elements, such as a few high top tables and chairs.
“I’m head of the (Upper School) thespian troupe; I’m sure we’ll be having meetings up here,” said Matthew Barbieri, a rising senior who was among the Upper Schoolers on hand giving tours during the reopening reception.
In addition to being a space that inspires Collegiate students and faculty, Oates will continue to be made available to area organizations in need of a theater for special programming.
It will be used this fall by several groups that have eagerly awaited its reopening, including the Richmond Philharmonic, the Virginians Barbershop, Marianne Kelly’s School of Dance and the Central Virginia Wind Symphony.
“Now more than ever we’re excited for the opportunity to accommodate our regular partners as well as others that need a (specific kind of) venue,” said Christine Branin, Collegiate’s Director of Auxiliary Services. “There are a lot of smaller venues and bigger venues (in the Richmond area). We’re a really unique size.”
Oates Theater, which is now among the top five venues in Central Virginia based on its seating capacity, was named in honor Joan Oates and the late Dr. Jim Oates. Joan Oates taught music in the Lower School for many years. She and her husband had four children graduate from Collegiate.
To learn more about the process behind the renovation and expansion, read Weldon Bradshaw’s recent Reflections
column featuring Scott Carson, Collegiate’s Director of Facilities Management and Construction, here