After a yearlong hibernation, the Shiva Theater is set to reopen this week, Feb. 7, heralding another season of communal concerts and performances. The student-run event space, which closed for maintenance repairs in December 2018, now features technological upgrades that will make the theater easier for students to use. The Shiva will host a party this Friday, Feb. 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. to celebrate, with performances from student groups and catering from Twisted Soul.
Until 1955, what is now the Susan Stein Shiva Theater was a coal bunker on campus that served to provide energy for the College. After Vassar outsourced its coal, the Shiva remained vacant for almost 40 years. Only around 20 years ago, in 1998, did the space transform to resemble the Shiva we know today, named after Drama Department alum Susan Stein Shiva ’57.
What sets the Shiva apart from Vassar’s other event spaces is that it is completely operated by students. Every aspect of a show, from acting, to directing,
to lighting and sound design is executed by students, without faculty or administrative supervision. The Shiva is independent of Vassar’s Drama Department, which allows for student experimentation that other theater experiences at Vassar may lack. “A renewed student theater space won’t really change anything for the Drama Department because they can’t use the Shiva,” explained Amandar Montgomery ’22. “It’s great that we have a dedicated space just for student theater.”
For students, the Shiva provides an opportunity to push creative boundaries and share art with other students without any oversight. “Having a student-run theater on campus gives students the freedom to create whatever they want … A space like the Shiva is vital for student theater and student performances on campus,” said drama major Sarah Berry Pierce ’22. Manager of the Shiva Alison Russell ’20 commented, “Our campus is lucky to have a space like the Shiva, as few colleges still have a student-run theater that has full seasons.” The Shiva has two main seasons, fall and spring, and run about three to six full-length productions each season.
Back in 2018, the theater hosted some sort of performance or event nearly every weekend. Full length shows like “Into the Woods,” “Doctor Faustus” and “The Wild Party” have all graced the Shiva. Student organizations including Future Waitstaff of America, Vassar College Soundsystem and The Woodshed Theatre Ensemble all used the Shiva regularly before its closing.
These activities had to find new locations when the Shiva closed its doors for maintenance. New York Stage and Film, a nonprofit theater company, was using the space in the summer of 2018, and contacted the College about necessary electrical repairs.
Some Vassar students are under the impression that the theater’s closing was related to the last full length production held in the Shiva, “The Wild Party,” which was performed by Future Waitstaff of America in November 2018. The show’s production hit a few road bumps before opening night, including crew members quitting and cast members sustaining injuries. “With a lot of the production team gone, members of the cast took on production roles themselves and joined together to build the set. Towards the opening of the show, there were concerns about how water on stage could be a safety concern,” explained Jojo Summersett ’22, who played the role of Nadine in “The Wild Party.” While outdated equipment exacerbated difficulties in pulling the show together, the temporary closing of the theater was solely due to maintenance concerns that the New York Film and Stage Company raised, according to Russel, and were not related directly to the outcome and struggles of Vassar’s “The Wild Party” iteration.
As students will soon see, the renovations will include both electrical and structural changes, including a new state-of-the-art lighting system and new trusses for hanging lights. The space will also include a lighting rep plot, which means that organizations will have access to a pre-hung standard lighting plot, saving students the effort of hanging lights for each performance.
Russel explained that these renovations will make the Shiva easier to navigate: “We hope that the new system will allow [event hosts] in the space to spend more time on design and exploration, as opposed to being bogged down with the time-consuming process of trial and error lighting. We are also excited about the Shiva becoming a home for more than just student theater; we hope that it can house all kinds of events on campus, from speakers, to art installations, to concerts.”
The Shiva is coming back swinging with Burlesque and Barefoot Monkeys set to perform this spring. The Shiva will also be the venue for a music festival on Feb. 29.
While the full length shows have not been announced yet, the Shiva usually hosts about three to six per season. “We expect that in the coming years we will host comedy shows, more full length performances, and hopefully some new organizations that have yet to experience the Shiva,” said Russell.
When students arrive at the Shiva opening this Friday, the space will once again feature art and excitement, with performances from Woodshed, Vassar Shakers, Measure for Measure, the Devils and Barefoot Monkeys. Pierce’s excitement was palpable: “I know I am thrilled at the Shiva’s reopening, and I am really excited to be able to hopefully produce art in an improved space.”