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The young professor, Harold Tedford, and the presi-
dent of the university, Dr. James R. Scales, met with Jo
[Mielziner] in New York in January over lunch at the Players
Club.* Tedford had heard Jo speak at the University of Texas
in 1963 and was impressed by Jo’s premise that a theatre
should be viewed as an instrument of production, not as a
monument or as a self-indulgent statement by a particular
architect. Although Scales was delighted with Jo’s ideas,
the building project did not go forward for two years. Then,
in 1972, Jo was invited to attend a planning symposium
that the university was sponsoring. Jo’s presentation there
was so persuasive that he was hired by the university as
consultant for the new theatre. Eddie Kook served as an
adjunct consultant to Jo in lighting.
After four years of planning and construction, two
theatres were built: the Main Stage Theatre and the
Ring Theatre. The Main Stage was probably Jo’s greatest
achievement and his finest legacy in theatre design. He
scaled the theatre to fit the needs of a 3,000-student
university and designed it to be usable by the students. A
modern proscenium theatre, it seats fewer than 350 per-
sons in a slightly fan-shaped auditorium that contains not
one obstructed view of the stage. The curved orchestra pit
is on a hydraulic lift that, when raised to stage level, pushes
the apron about fourteen feet into the house to create a
modified thrust stage. The grand curtain follows the curve
of the thrust, when it is in use. A stage house rises 70 feet
above the stage to allow scenery to be flown out of sight.
Although there are sophisticated lighting and sound sys-
tems built into the theatre, both are not so advanced that
students cannot learn the controls. The stage is equipped
with an annular ring, which facilitates rapid scene changes
and a standard rope counterweight system easily manipu-
lated by student technicians. The proscenium, which is 36
feet across and 20 feet high, is adjustable by means of side
panels to close in the opening and a valance above the stage
that can be raised to increase the height to 30 feet.
The auditorium ceiling, which contains acoustical
“clouds” against inky blue plaster, insures perfect audibil-
ity and complements the scheme of wood-paneled walls
in gradated shades from darkest to lightest at the back of
the house, seats covered in purple fabric, and carpeting
of brown and purple tweed. Jo objected to the color of the
curtain but was unable to have it changed because it had
already been ordered.
Devoted as they were to up-to-the-minute technology,
Jo and Eddie accepted President Scales’s challenge to make
it a workable theatre without undue mechanization. The
Main Statge has withstood the test of time and has been
universally regarded as a near-perfect little theatre. The
actress Julie Harris on a visit to the campus considered the
students fortunate in being able to learn about produc-
tion within such an environment. (She would have been
interested in know that Jo always used her small-featured
face as the litmus test for judging the success of sightlines
in an auditorium. If the audience could see Julie Harris’s
face from every seat, then he felt that the theatre was a
success.) The director Michael Bennett was so astonished
by it that he wished he could transport it to New York.
The following paragraphs are taken from Mielziner: Master of Modern Stage design, by Mary C. Henderson
(New York: Watson-Guptill, 2001), pp. 275–277.
* Tedford remembers that they met in Mielziner’s apartment.
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