Student Enrichment Center Theater
Student Enrichment Center Theater
Image: Penn State

Theater brings new programming and new perspectives to college community

When plans for Penn State Harrisburg’s Student Enrichment Center (SEC) were approved in 2015, the initial blueprints included a multi-purpose space on the first floor intended for lectures and special events. But over the course of the project’s development, the concept for the space was gradually reshaped into what is now the SEC theater, a state-of-the-art venue for cultural and academic programming and student activities.

The theater opened in August 2016 and already has been host to numerous events and hundreds of patrons, from the campus and the community. Events have included the urban education expert and author of the New York Times bestselling book “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... And the Rest of Y'All Too” Dr. Christopher Emdin; the inaugural presentation of the PNC Thoughts Leaders Lecture Series with guest speaker Richard Florida; “Proof,” a student-led play sponsored by the School of Humanities; and “Songs for a Winter’s Night,” the first of two annual music programs directed by Dr. Adam Gustafson, instructor in music.

With the new space has come new academic offerings such as a theater practicum and a music/band practicum. Students from numerous disciplines, such as humanities, business, and engineering, have enrolled in these courses, illustrating the importance of the arts, according to Gustafson, in a well-rounded education.

“A lot of people understand theater to mean people on a stage acting, and they don’t understand that for every person on the stage, there are 20 people behind the scenes making that happen,” said Gustafson. “There are more engineers involved in theater than there are actors at the professional level, and this is a viable component of their education.”

The intention is to continue encouraging the involvement of students from all disciplines, a feat which Matthew Mitra, arts production specialist, believes is necessary given the impressive technology with which the theater is equipped.

The theater boasts more than 50 LED lighting fixtures and a state-of-the-art sound system that, according to Mitra, can power anything from a single-microphone lecturer to a full-sized rock band. Students are able to learn and manage the systems, giving even those with little to no prior experience exposure to, and knowledge about, the theater’s advanced technology.

The response to the capabilities of the theater from campus and community members has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Teri Guerrisi, arts administrator.

“People who have attended events [in the theater] have been really thrilled with the level of professionalism we’ve achieved in this space, and that’s something to be proud of,” she said. “There’s value in seeing what this space can do and how we can push it.”

Plans for the spring semester include a production of “Avenue Q” (April 6-8), a Tony award-winning musical billed as “Sesame Street for adults.” The production will be directed by Maria Enriquez, lecturer in theater, with musical direction by Gustafson.

Other upcoming events in the theater include the Model UN Opening Ceremony (Feb. 23); a theater Open House (March 1); Jim Dinegar, CEO of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, part of the PNC Thought Leaders Lecture Series (April 12); the Steve Rudolph Jazz Quartet (April 13); the spring music program “1966-2016: The Tunes of Our Times” (April 20-21); and a celebration of drama, music and dance titled “Once Upon Our Campus” (April 27).