The Harper Joy Theatre (HJT) renovation fund has received a $150,000 boost from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. The grant makes a significant impact on the college’s fundraising efforts for the estimated $7.4 million theater expansion and renovation project. When completed, the new theater will better serve the performance and educational needs of faculty, staff, students and area residents.

Of particular importance to the Allen Foundation was the vital role HJT plays in the Walla Walla arts community. One of the foundation’s goals is to contribute to the health and vibrancy of cities and towns throughout the Pacific Northwest; the fact that HJT serves the role of a regional theater and attracts a significant audience of local community members was a strong characteristic of Whitman’s proposal.

Launched in 1990 by Paul G. Allen, the Microsoft co-founder, and Jo Lynn Allen (Whitman Class of 1980), The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation is dedicated to transforming lives and strengthening communities by fostering innovation, creating knowledge and promoting social progress. Over the past 20 years, Paul Allen’s contributions to the foundation have resulted in more than 3,000 grants totaling more than $400 million. He is one of the country’s leading philanthropists.

“The Harper Joy Theatre is an important cultural resource for Whitman, Walla Walla and the surrounding community,” said Jo Lynn Allen, president of the foundation. “As an alumna of the Whitman theatre program, I remember the stage of the Harper Joy well. I’m pleased that the foundation and I can play a part in renovating the theater.”

Currently under way, the HJT renovation project includes upgrades and additions aimed at increasing capacity to accommodate more theater patrons, modernizing the space to meet current standards for safety and access, and expanding the amount of space dedicated to rehearsal, performance and classes. The 12 to 15 months of construction, slated for completion in August 2011, will include the following key projects:

  • Addition of a new, larger black box performance theater.
  • Renovation of the existing black box theater into a performance space for classes and rehearsals.
  • Addition of six new faculty and staff offices and a costume shop.
  • Expansion of the theater entrance and lobby.
  • Replacement of the seats in the Alexander Stage.
  • Conversion of the existing basement costume shop into a student rehearsal space.
  • Improvement of the rigging, lighting, electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

In the past four decades, Whitman’s theatre department has tripled in size, growing from fewer than 10 theatre majors in the 1970s to approximately 30 today. On average, more than 400 students take theatre classes, and more than 250 participate in one or more productions each year. Originally built in 1958, HJT presents more productions than any other college or university in the western United States. Annual shows include eight to nine fully mounted productions, and 15 smaller student productions, presented to about 8,000 audience members each year.

The $150,000 grant to HJT is one of several major gifts made to the college by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation in recent years. When the Penrose Library was renovated in 2000, a gift from the foundation created the Allen Reading Room, a large, quiet study space located on the library’s main floor. More recently, the foundation made a $250,000 contribution to the construction of Whitman’s Fouts Center for Visual Arts, a $14.2 million project completed in October 2008.

Read more about the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation here.

Proposed changes to the Harper Joy Theatre entrance.

View from Science Building
View from the Hall of Science parking lot.

View from Penrose Library
View from behind Penrose Library.