All jewels need polishing from time to time to restore their sparkle, and Theater Studies’ gem, the Brody Theater, is no exception. When it was renamed in 2006 to honor Duke alumnus Harold J. Brody (B.A. Chemistry ’70), the East Campus theater had been the department’s main venue for 34 years. Today, it’s where Duke Players presents the majority of its student productions and serves as the performance classroom for several Theater Studies courses.
As the country was entering the uncertainties of the pandemic, Brody was determined and motivated to create something positive. Classes switched to remote learning and public performances were halted, and that meant the theater was not in use. Brody utilized the time to revitalize and rejuvenate the space and began a collaboration with former Assistant Vice President for Trinity College, Chris Clarke; Theater Studies Chair Torry Bend; Director of Facilities Jerry Conrad; and Associate Director of Theater Operations and Lighting Supervisor Rich Kless.
For the next six months, theater walls received a new coat of paint, manual shades were replaced with black-out shades that can be silently raised and lowered with the push of a button, and the restrooms were renovated. The backstage costume area was reorganized, floor tiles were replaced, and a new ebony Yamaha upright piano now holds court on the stage. Finally, a computerized entry system was installed for added safety.
But the crown jewel is a computerized lighting board system that creates color lighting zones using ellipsoidal spotlights and parabolic aluminized reflector (PAR) lights to provide highly directional beams of new color hue combinations. Because the new lights do not produce heat, they also allow for the use of plastic gobos — small, stenciled circular discs — to create patterns of light on the stage, which brings the Brody Theater lighting in line with the lighting systems in all the other theaters on campus.
“Since Brody Theater is used by student productions, this is a golden opportunity for students to acquire knowledge in stage lighting early in their exposure to theater,” explains Brody. “Students who have written and directed productions can learn to custom design shows for a more rounded theatrical education.”
“With these latest upgrades, the Brody can continue to be the little gem for the Department of Theater Studies, providing the space for education and presentation that was envisioned at its inception.”