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Little Nourse project receive significant funding

<enovation project to Little Nourse planned for Summer 2017 has been put on hold after a recent donation. The Small family (James and Alison Small P’17 and Patton Small ’17) donated $200,000 to the project, which has allowed the project to expand from its initial scope. Originally funded for $26,000 from CSA and $100,000 from the College, the Little Nourse theater will be undergoing heavy renovations starting in June 2018 after a new plan is developed, according to Assistant Director of Student Activities Ana Sontag.

Little Nourse opened in the early 1930s in the basement of Nourse Hall. Most famous for its premiere production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle by renowned playwright Bertolt Brecht in May 1948, the theatre seats fewer than one hundred people and “remains a site of major importance for the performing arts community at Carleton,” according to an entry from the NorthfieldHistorical website—a collaboration between St. Olaf College, Carleton College and the Northfield Historical Society.

“There is a great deal of history in the space; signatures of cast members from decades past are written on the walls, pictures drawn strategically on wooden door frames and concrete cinder block. The renovation team is aware of this rich history and plans to preserve and incorporate it throughout the construction process,” said Director of Student Activities Lee Clark.

The process to renovate and update the theater began in Winter 2016 when the CSA treasurer Ben Strauss ’16  approached ETB treasurer—at the time—Kate Faber ’18 about proposing a Little Nourse upgrade to the Student Projects Committee, a branch of CSA. The Committee had extra money in their budget and they hoped to find a project to fund, said Faber.

Faber and Julia Connelly ’18, the technical liaison of ETB who was charged with Little Nourse upkeep, began to brainstorm possible upgrades to the space. “Together we came up with a lot, a lot of ideas for different things that could be improved. And we decided that we definitely wanted to propose a project like this,” said Faber.

After also consulting with ETB board members, ETB participants, comedy groups and other users of Little Nourse, they submitted a proposal for approximately $26,000, which included funds for upgrading the lighting equipment, renovating the backstage area and adding better storage to the theater, according to Faber.

This proposal went to a campus-wide vote and was approved, said Sontag.

Later, Carleton gave an extra $100,000 for the project. Combined with these two funding sources and the recent donation of $200,000, a working group with student representatives, Student Activities Office (SAO) and Facilities is currently working to decide how the $326,000 budget will be divided for various improvements to Little Nourse, according to ETB board member and member of the working group Emma Buechner ’18.

The group will meet throughout the academic year and is currently working with a project architect who led the renovations on Wade House, said Sontag.

The group has not made an official decision on which features of the theater will be changed. To help decide upgrades to prioritize, a survey was sent out to many users of the space.  In the survey, tech was identified as a major need. Furthermore, “high priorities also included improved accessibility and a more efficient backstage area. About 75% of respondents said that retaining Little Nourse’s cozy atmosphere was important to them, and keeping the backstage paintings from past shows was ‘really, really, really important’ to many as well,” said Buechner.

The project is scheduled to finish before students return to campus in the fall, according to Faber. Unfortunately, Summer Academic Programs, who have previously used the space during the summer, will not be able to access the theater during their programming, said Sontag.

“I have my fingers crossed that the project is finished in time, but even if it goes late, one term without Little Nourse is worth a safer, more efficient, more accessible space for future years,” said Buechner.

Faber, now working on the project for two years, is excited to see construction begin. “I think the thing I am most excited about for this project is the thought that having Little Nourse be just a more complete space. In terms of what it can offer a theater production or a comedy group, it will inspire more people to get involved and inspire people who are already involved to do cooler, neater, more creative things than they otherwise would.”

Buechner echoed this excitement for the renovations, “Little Nourse has felt like a home since my first term at Carleton, and I know that so many people share this feeling. Although some parts of Little Nourse’s decrepitude add to its cozy charm, it really sucks to have the speaker system start screaming in the middle of a performance.

“There’s no way to get into the space without using stairs, and a noisy ventilation system means that everyone just has to bathe in each other’s sweat in a packed house,” said Buechner.

 Buechner said, “I’m so excited that this space, which has been such a big part of my time here, will get the love (and funding) it needs to continue its role in future students’ Carleton experiences.”

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