Our Playing Space

The Greek Theater Group at Montclair State University has for the last three years performed in the MSU Amphitheater, an outdoors playing space constructed in 1935-7 as a public forum and theatrical venue through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the “largest and most ambitious New Deal agency,” and especially through the offices of the short-lived but powerful and inspiring Federal Theatre Project, headed up at that time by the radical theater practitioner Hallie Flanagan. According to the Living New Deal history pages:

“The federal Works Progress Administration constructed an amphitheater for what was then known as Montclair State Teachers College. The 2,000-seat theater was constructed into a hillside, its 22 tiers of seats measuring between 92 and 190 feet long. The stage, at construction, measured 70 feet by 40 feet and contained a tree in the middle. An orchestra pit in front of the stage measured 70′-by-30′.”

The seating area is built into the large hill in between Kasser Theater and Dickson Hall, and as described consists of long stone benches organized in tiers, in imitation of the seating in an ancient Greek theater. The irregular oval playing area is roughly 60 feet long and 30 feet deep, with a bit of space on the wings bringing the breadth to the size described by the Living New Deal page. The present playing surface is covered with flagstones, as is the (still substantial) orchestra pit in front of the first row of stone seats. Similar to a true Greek theater, the MSU Amphitheater has long entrances on both sides. Recently, the lighting and sound system of the amphitheater were upgraded, and two tall lighting and electrical towers stand on either side of the cavea.

We are still working to find out about early performances in the space, and we don’t know how beloved or not the space was during the 1960s (for example), but relatively recently (in 2011- 2014) the university Amphitheater was being put to use for rock and hip-hop concerts (Clifford Smith aka Method Man played here!), and also avant-garde art experiments involving ambient sounds and music; it was refurbished (I believe in 2012-13), its sound system and lighting towers rewired and updated. It offers a peaceful area for classes or study partners to meet outdoors in springtime.

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