This year, as UMass Amherst’s Department of Theater celebrates its 40th anniversary, its Rand Theater is getting a new lease on life. The Rand has been home to a long succession of sterling productions featuring groundbreaking direction; gorgeous sets, costumes, and lighting; early performances by celebrated actors including Richard Gere ’71, Jeff Donovan ’91, Bill Pullman ’80G, and Rob Corddry ’93, and productions of new works by such renowned playwrights as alumna Constance Congdon ’92G. It has also done untold good in supporting incisive theater scholarship and hosting lectures and workshops by visiting luminaries like playwright Tony Kushner.
All that glory, however, has come wrapped in a sad relic of the theater’s 1970s origins: the orange shag carpeting adorning the floor, the walls, and the lobby. Now, after many years of planning and hoping, the department has launched an ambitious renovation project. It entails replacing the theater’s matching orange seats, taking down the walls between rows, creating wheelchair-accessible seating, upgrading the restrooms, dressing up the lobby with green lighting and a modern, functional box office—and getting rid of all that orange carpet.
The project is off to a great start—thanks to a generous $800,000 gift from the university that came about largely through the efforts of Julie Hayes, dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, and Provost James Staros— and much work has already been done. But that gift doesn’t cover everything: another $500,000 is needed to get the job done. The department is therefore calling on friends, alumni, and supporters during a year-long fund-raising initiative called “Shed the Shag.” The effort is approached in a spirit of optimism and fun, as best expressed by the elaborate outfit—regal, but hardly suited for street wear—that costume-shop personnel created out of stripped-off carpeting and upholstery material for Penny Remsen, the department chair.
“Let’s do this theater justice,” Remsen urges supporters. “Let’s make it a place where people are inspired to talk about theater, and not about orange carpeting.”
Those wishing to donate to the Rand Theater renovation can do so online.