In the 1970s, Northwestern University alumna and supporter Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz ’24, a champion of the arts, helped her alma mater raise the funds needed to build what was then the Theatre and Interpretation Center. Today, her memory lives on in the newly renovated Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts.
A gift from her grandson, Chicago Blackhawks chairman William Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz ’75, and his wife, Marilyn, enabled Northwestern to rename the center in Virginia’s honor in 2014. University leaders honored the Wirtz family and other lead benefactors of the School of Communication at a June 13 ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the official reopening of the fully renovated center.
“Northwestern and the Wirtz family have been connected for many decades,” Northwestern President Morton Schapiro told an audience of more than 70 University supporters, trustees, administrators and others in the Wirtz Center’s stunning new blackbox theater.
The building was renovated to improve the accessibility and function of existing spaces and to create new classroom, rehearsal and performance spaces.
The Wirtz Center addition includes three studio theaters, instructional spaces used for theatre, performance studies and dance programs: The April McClain-Delaney and John Delaney Studio Theater, named in recognition of a gift from April McClain-Delaney ’86, ’15 P, ’18 P and Congressman John Delaney ’15 P, ’18 P; the Spohler Family Studio Theater, named in recognition of a gift from Bruce ’86 MBA, ’17 P and Melissa Spohler ’17 P and family; and the Barbara and Garry Marshall Studio Theater, named in recognition of a gift from Barbara and the late Garry Marshall ’56, ’86 P, ’90 P, ’91 P, ’18 GP.
Each studio theater is equipped with a spring floor, curtains, full-length mirrors, acting cubes, floor mats and loose seating, as well as state-of-the-art technology. Outside of classes, students use these spaces to rehearse for upcoming projects or performances. The rooms are also used for student auditions and independent study projects.
Since the Barbara and Garry Marshall Studio Theater is often utilized by those studying screen acting, it also includes three curtain tracks with black, white and Chroma key green layers; an LCD screen (rather than a projector), so students may better perform in front of an image; more film-style than theatrical-style lighting in the grid; and dedicated camera equipment for recording performances.
The Judith and Philip Block III Seminar Room — named in recognition of a gift from Judith S. Block ’63, trustee, and the late Philip D. Block III ’93 P, ’02 P, ’03 P — is used as an instruction space for various courses related to the theatre program. It has audio-visual capabilities and modular movable furniture for flexible use. Outside of classes, students use this space to rehearse for upcoming projects or performances.
The Whitman Music Studio — named in recognition of a gift from the Purple Plume Foundation in honor of Barbara Whitman ’11 P, ’13 P — and the Maxine Hupy ’11 and Rex Hupy ’13 Performing Arts Practice Room — named in recognition of a gift from Suzanne and Michael Hupy ’11 P, ’13 P — are designed for instructional use, specifically vocal coaching, for up to eight students. Each space is equipped with a whiteboard surface, a flat-screen monitor and a hybrid baby grand piano. The rooms also feature a full-length wall mirror so students can monitor their posture while singing.
The Ruth and Todd Warren Computer Lab — named in recognition of a gift from Ruth and Todd Warren ’87 — accommodates an instructor and up to 11 students. Instruction is given using computer graphic software for scenic, costume and lighting design. Each of the lab’s 12 computers is equipped with software for 3-D modeling, light-grid planning, 2-D and 3-D animation and architectural rendering. When not scheduled for coursework, the space is used as a general computer lab. The room also features a wide-format scanner/copier/plotter.
Serving as the entry point for the Wirtz Center complex and a welcoming venue for gatherings, the Secunda Family Foundation Lobby is named in recognition of a gift from the Secunda Family Foundation in honor of Cindy and Thomas Secunda ’13 P and Amy Secunda ’13.
In addition to the above named spaces, the Wirtz Center features a blackbox theater — used for theatre, performance studies and dance programs — with a 24-foot-high ceiling with a structural grid to support aerial performance work. The blackbox theater offers tiered seating for 70 people and loose seating for up to 100. The Wirtz Center also includes an additional seminar room for instruction and rehearsal, additional coaching rooms for vocal students, and dry and wet design studios for theatre students to learn and develop set and stage design.
Senior theatre major Jessie Jennison ’17 — who performed at the ceremony with fellow students Charlotte Morris ’17, Eric Peters ’17, Justin Tepper ’17 and Noah Teplin ’17 — said the center’s expansion is providing students with much-needed spaces for practice and learning and something else:
“There’s community around this physical building,” Jennison said. “Students can hang out here, and it’s bringing us together.”
The funds raised through We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern are helping realize the transformational vision set forth in Northwestern’s strategic plan and solidify the University’s position among the world’s leading research universities. wewill.northwestern.edu