New downtown theater to bring college students to Decatur art scene

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DECATUR, Ala. - The downtown revitalization of the River City has been ongoing for years, and now its arts side is getting a leg up.

The Alabama Center for the Arts was built in two phases: the first brought about a gallery to showcase ceramics, photography and so on. Now, phase two is ready, and it's a new theater across from the iconic Princess.

But this stage is for college students.

"We didn't have a theater at Athens State [University]," explained drama professor Hugh Long.

Long helped develop the drama minor into a full blown major, and part of his duty was to help develop the theater that will be shared with Calhoun Community College's theater and drama classes.

In fact, Athens State University has a program with just the last two years of a drama and theater arts degree, so a student can start at Calhoun and switch over to complete a four-year degree without having to travel to a more expensive drama/theater school.

"It's a learning theater, it's a place that's a laboratory in a classroom and allows us to do amazing productions," said Professor Long.

Just between the two universities, there will be five to six shows per year in the theater, not to mention any jazz or choral performances that take place in the attached recital hall.

The new space features an impressive lobby, a series of recording studios, the recital hall, the black box theater, dressing rooms, and a rehearsal room that doubles as a reinforced storm shelter.

Long explains the effort is to create a cycle of talent and shows between the new theater and the Princess Theater. He is also on the board for the historic theater that stands across the street from his new office and studio.

The energy generated between the two theaters is expected to fulfill Senator Arthur Orr's wishes to bring even more life downtown.

"Theaters need to be downtown," said Long. "One thing we know about theater is it brings an audience, and one thing we know about audience, they like to eat, they like to drink."

Long says he is already building a relationship with nearby restaurants, hoping to bring people out to the historic area and in the long term, hopefully bring more boutique shops to the rejuvenated area.

"The more you bring the arts, the more you bring culture, the more you raise the standard of living and quality of life," said Long.

Drama and theater classes for both colleges will be held in the new theater, and they plan to have their first shows in October and November.