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Renovated amphitheater provides fresh venue

Freshman Mary Catherine Hutchinson got on stage with the band Carbon Leaf. By Stephen Salpukas.After nearly 30 years, the Williamsburg community is enjoying entertainment on the shores of Lake Matoaka again in a beautifully renovated outdoor theater.

The Lake Matoaka Amphitheater reopened this summer after a year of renovation and new construction. The newly reopened theater, which is located near the corner of Jamestown Road and Ukrop Way, has already served as a venue for a variety of performances this year. It is expected to be used for even more in the coming months, said Mark Constatine, assistant vice president for student affairs.

"We have a wonderful new place that's fresh and vibrant. The beauty of the place is beyond belief," Constantine said. "We hope this becomes not only a College venue, but a venue that the community looks at for some of their events as well."

The amphitheater was originally built in 1947 to serve as the venue for Paul Green's "The Common Glory," a play about the American Revolution. Interest in the play declined in the 1970s, and, though it was used after that for student events, the theater eventually fell into disrepair.

lmnSeveral years ago, interested in reviving the old venue began. With a help of an anonymous gift and the combination of state and College funding, work on the construction project began in May 2006.

Graffiti was removed and the stage was resurfaced. Tiered seating areas were constructed, with 575 fixed seats and room for about 1,200 in lawn seating. A box office and restrooms were added, and a basic lighting and sound system were installed. A removable, tent-like covering was placed over the stage to provide shade from the elements without blocking the view of the water. A backstage area, including dressing rooms and a green room, was built, and electrical work was done so that the site could facilitate the power needs of large performances. The design for the facility was completed by Glave Holmes Associates Architects and work was done by W.M. Jordan Company.

Work on the site ended in April 2007, and the doors opened to the public soon after when the theater played host to a summer concert series that featured music ranging from Spanish Flamenco rhythms to progressive rock.

The theater was used during orientation at the start of this semester, and the University Center Activities Board and other student organizations booked several events there over the past few months. UCAB's events there have included a hypnotist, a movie, and music groups. The theater has also been used as the setting for a number of special activities and events. For example, last spring the theater hosted the reception for 2007 Duke Award winner Capt. Ed Davis of the William and Mary Police Department. It has also been used for special luncheons and other events of the College.

"The new Lake Matoaka amphitheater is a great place to program," said junior Katy Lang, UCAB publicity chair. "The first time I was out there was for the Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers concert. Listening to them play with the sun setting behind them and the rays on the lake was just incredible. The amphitheater is clean, spacious, well organized, and beautiful as well."

Sophomore and accomplished musician Shane Cooley and his band, the Aviators, have performed twice at the theater since it reopened. Cooley, who has performed all over the East Coast, said he was impressed with the renovated facility.

"It's one of the most professional designs of any venue I've performed at," he said. "The backstage area makes the performers feel at home, the sound is great, and of course there's a beautiful backdrop."

The amphitheater is scheduled and operated by the Office of Student Activities. Led by Joe Lowder, assistant director of student activities for programming, a team of five students is helping to manage the theater.

"Part of our world in Student Affairs is making sure we are giving opportunities for students to grow in some different areas," said Constantine. "This will give them the opportunity to learn business, venue management, customer service and all the things that go with that."

Though the theater will be primarily used for William and Mary events, the facility is also available for rent by the public. Because of its outdoor location, the tent-like covering has been taken down for the winter, and use of the theater will be limited during the fall and winter months. However, requests are already coming in for the spring semester.

Constantine said he can see the setting being used for a variety of events, and he expects that, as word gets out, use of the facility will greatly increase.

"Mostly it is used for entertainment, but entertainment doesn't just have to be music," he said. "The possibilities there are endless. We want to have students excited about what they can do there."