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 Students, staff, faculty, alumni, donors and friends packed the newly renovated Harper Joy Theater (Alexander Stage) for the ceremonial reopening of the facility, held Sept. 30, 2011.

Last week’s ceremonial reopening of Harper Joy Theatre put the facility, the theatre department and the opportunities it offers at center stage.

In expressing appreciation for all the various kinds of support shown for Harper Joy Theatre, Chris Petit, HJT director and associate professor of theatre, summed it up in his remarks to the full house: “It’s a really great time to be working at Whitman College.”

Peter van Oppen ’74, chair of the Board of Trustees, also spoke, highlighting the importance of theatre to the Whitman legacy. “I believe the essential core of a Whitman education revolves around participation in activities that build confidence, leadership, initiative and creativity,” he said. “Nothing builds those skills better than being in front of an audience.”

President Bridges spoke about ushering in a new era of Whitman theatre, and thanked the donors, many of whom had travelled to Walla Walla for the occasion, for making it possible. “Today we are celebrating a new age of Harper Joy Theatre,” he said. “But what we’ve done would not have been possible if these alumni and friends of the college had not been so generous.”

The celebration followed a $7-million renovation effort spanning 14 months, designed to better accommodate the rapidly expanding theatre department. The renovations include a new black box theatre – now named the Freimann Studio Theatre, new seats in the Alexander Stage and a greatly enhanced costume shop, among many other improvements. Thanks to donor support for new faculty offices and rehearsal spaces, the entire department will be housed under one roof for the first time.

Students showed their appreciation by performing one of the entries in this year’s Instant Play Festival, and guests were able to explore the expanded facility.

Van Oppen also shared a personal connection to the theatre: his mother, Elizabeth Fouts van Oppen ’40, a piano performance major at Whitman who went on to become a choir director in L.A., literally “sang the praises” of the college to her fellow choir members. Her rave reviews influenced one member’s daughter to attend Whitman and become an integral part of the history of Harper Joy.

“That daughter turned out to be Nancy Simon ’63, probably the most important donation we have influenced at the college,” he said.