Belmont University opened its new theater complex this past weekend with an invitation-only, black-tie Gala Celebration. The inaugural production in the 350-seat Troutt Theater featured William Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, a collaboration between the Belmont Theater Department and the Nashville-based Actors Bridge Ensemble. Actors Bridge has a long history with Belmont as the ensemble was founded in 1995 as a training program in the university’s Little Theatre.
Belmont Provost Dr. Dan McAlexander said, “We are proud to open this extraordinary new theater complex with this collaborative production. It serves as a perfect example of both Belmont’s distinctive brand of education—which connects rigorous learning on campus with real world experience in the professional communities of Nashville—and our commitment to serve this city. Of course, these new venues are tremendous assets for Belmont students. But, because they will be shared with a wide variety of local professional theater and dance companies, they are also outstanding new additions to the cultural life of Nashville.”
Much Ado About Nothing Director Bill Feehely, a former Belmont theater professor, founded Actors Bridge and now serves as the group’s artistic director. “It was a great honor to be given the opportunity to direct the very first production at the Bill and Carole Troutt Theater,” Feehely said. “I have the chance to do the thing I love with two organizations dear to my heart, Belmont University and Actors Bridge. I am also thrilled to be able to add to my career highlights premiering a wonderful cast and crew in this beautiful facility.”
Dr. Bob Fisher, Belmont’s president, opened the evening by thanking the guests for their attendance and honoring the various individuals who had contributed to the planning and fundraising to make the theater a reality. He also introduced the university’s former president and his wife, Bill and Carole Troutt , for whom the proscenium theater is named.
In addition to Actors Bridge, Belmont will be collaborating with a number of local ensembles throughout the year, including Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Nashville Children’s Theatre and the Nashville Ballet. The Belmont Theater Complex plans to make an impact beyond the university’s borders by providing a venue for showcasing the work of local theaters and performance groups, summer high school student institutes and specialty workshops designed to assist teachers of theater and dance. In addition, it will create a new space for booking traveling shows and theater events best suited for intimate settings.
Produced by Belmont University’s Theater Department Chair Paul Gatrell and Actors Bridge Ensemble’s Producing Artistic Director Vali Forrister, Much Ado About Nothing represents the premiere performance in the complex’s main room, the Bill and Carole Troutt Theater. The 350-seat proscenium theater provides state-of-the-art lighting and sound, as well as a stage equipped with 35 fly lines with a full package of stage drapes and moveable lighting electrics. Directly behind the stage house is the new Bill and Sharon Sheriff Scene Shop, a production and teaching facility for all of the stage sets, stage properties and stage lighting for all Department of Theatre and Dance productions. Connected to the scene shop is the second theater in the complex, the Black Box Theater, an experimental theater used for smaller, intimate productions involving flexible staging, unique audience seating and student-centered design opportunities. This facility also doubles as a classroom for acting, movement, diction and dance classes during the day.
In honor of the theater’s grand opening, two individuals close to Belmont are contributing their talents to the first production. Chris Brown, an Actors Bridge and Belmont graduate who now works as an actor in Chicago’s Blue Man Group, returns to Nashville to play the lead role of Benedick (pictured with actress Pru Clearwater/Beatrice, Hatcher & Fell Photography). In addition, Franne Lee, a two-time, Tony award-winning costume designer, offers her talents in the creation of the production’s costumes. Lee’s TV credits include the first five years of “Saturday Night Live,” for which she won an Emmy for costume design, as well as work with Mike Nichols, Christopher Walken, Peter Brook, Al Pacino, and Hal Prince. She is currently the executive director of the Plowhaus Artists’ Coop in East Nashville and an adjunct professor of theatrical design at Belmont University.