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Rollins College Receives $3 Million Dollar Grant for New Theater, Dance Facility

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Photo: Kazuo Ota

The grant will pay for a new black box theatre, dance studio and costume shop on the Winter Park campus.

WMFE spoke with President Grant Cornwell about the importance of the arts to Rollins’ and Central Florida’s recovery. 

Read the full interview below.

Danielle: So how do you envision this space you know, being used? I know you said that it fills an important need. Do you see in-person classes? Do you see recitals there?

Grant: We have been without an experimental and teaching theatre for several years because, well, we had a design that we thought we didn’t have the funding.

And it’s been a difficult climate to raise the necessary funds to deliver on this.

And our, our long standing trustee, Philip Tiedtke came forward. And he is a trustee of the Florida Charities Foundation as well. And Mr. Tiedtke invested in this project, both because he’s a believer that the theater and dance are part of the liberal arts and he cares deeply about them, but also, because he thinks Rollins has done such a credible job of staying true to our mission through the pandemic.

So we have the famous Annie Russell proscenium theatre, which is the oldest continuously operating theatre in Florida. And it’s lovely. And that’s for the main productions, but as part of the curriculum, students write their own plays, they produce their own plays, they direct their own plays, and they act in their own plays. And that all takes place in a black box environment, which we don’t have right now.

So that’s going to be a very key form of activity in this new facility. In addition, we will have a new dance studio, and beautiful costume shop and also a lighting shop. So it’s really an overall teaching and learning facility where students will be working with faculty and staff learning the arts of the theater.

Danielle: How was dance and theater at Rollins affected by the pandemic? And how did you guys kind of continue those classes and those performances in a safe way?

Grant: Theater and dance continued in a safe way only because of the ingenuity of our faculty. I can’t believe the number of ways that they’ve invented to keep these programs going.

We had a recent production of a play. That was that was actually about a women’s soccer team. And it was performed entirely on the outdoor tennis courts, with limited numbers of patrons in the stands at the tennis courts.

My wife Peg and I have been to plays in the Annie Russell, again with limited, you know patrons, but there was a crowd there was an audience, and all the players were masked. And they went through an entire play.

Danielle: And I guess my last question is just how important is this dance and theater program when we think about recovering from the pandemic? You know, for Rollins? Is it an essential player in kind of that vision for the school as we think about finally ending this pandemic?

Grant: Well, it is essential, it is an essential dimension of coming out of the pandemic because for Rollins, theater and music are deeply woven into our soul. I mean they’re part of campus life. They’re part of Central Florida cultural life.

I mean if you think about everything from the Bach Festival to our music department to the Annie Russell Theatre, I mean, the the way that Rollins contributes to the arts in Central Florida is important to Central Florida, but it’s also very important to Rollins. So we’re very eager to get back to it. Full steam.

Listen to the full conversation, by clicking on the clip at the top of the page.

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Danielle Prieur

About Danielle Prieur

Reporter & Fill-in Host

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter at WMFE. You can hear her reporting on a daily basis on the station. She also fills-in as a host during the morning and afternoon drive times. Her reporting has been featured on NPR, Marketplace, Here & Now, and Vox. Danielle is originally from Rochester Hills, ... Read Full Bio »