Arena Theatre a Casualty of HUB Renovations

Photo courtesy of Trey Atkins-Combs

Photo courtesy of Trey Atkins-Combs

Starting in the fall of 2023, Moravian University will begin a massive renovation of the Haupert Union Building (HUB). With those changes, however, comes one glaring omission: Arena Theatre. 

Arena Theatre, which sits on the lower level of the HUB, directly beneath the B&G, has been the physical home of Moravian theater since 1981. But when the renovation of the HUB commences, the theater will be demolished, and the University has no plans to replace it in the foreseeable future.  

 In an interview with The Comenian, President Bryon Grigsby said that while he has enjoyed having an official theater on campus, in the end, he felt the University could no longer support it in the same capacity. “We don’t have the facilities to support a vibrant theater major, like Muhlenberg and DeSales, for example,” he said. “Much of our strengths lie in the facilities we have for STEM, majors like biology, nursing, public health, and health sciences. As universities need to keep down tuition costs for everyone, it becomes ever more important to focus on what an institution does well with the facilities it has at hand. It is no longer possible for universities to be everything to everyone, so we must choose strategically what we know we can do well.”  

Before the planning of the HUB renovation was underway, the University did make several attempts to re-site Arena Theater. One plan was to purchase the Boyd Theater in downtown Bethlehem and turn it into a theater space for the school. But after reviewing the time, effort, and multi-million dollar cost of purchasing and renovating the Boyd, Grigsby felt the option wasn’t feasible. Another plan looked at transforming Prosser Auditorium into a theater. But, as with the Boyd, the cost and effort looked prohibitive.

In planning the HUB renovation, Moravian didn’t see how they could preserve the original Arena Theatre or site it someplace else. An important part of the renovation plans is to dedicate a significantly large space for an expanded, improved, and unified health and counseling centers for students. In order to combine both departments in a safe space for students, designers need more square footage, which comes at the expense of Arena Theatre.   

Building an entirely new theater either in the HUB or elsewhere would be too expensive, Grigsby said, and he couldn’t justify increasing student fees or tuition to do it, particularly given the small size of Moravian’s theater program. 

The elimination of Arena Theatre doesn’t mean there will no longer be theater at Moravian, however. Grigsby said there are plans to turn large rooms on campus into black boxes, temporary performance spaces that can host the curricular and performance needs of theater. He also made it clear that the appropriate equipment would be provided to do that.

Grigsby acknowledged that losing a dedicated theater space on campus will challenge Professor Christopher Shorr, director of theater at Moravian, his students, and those who enjoy theater. But he said he hopes they can understand the rationale for the change, knowing that future plans for a dedicated space can be revisited. 

For his part, Professor Shorr said he is sorry to lose Arena Theatre, mostly because of what it means for the students. 

“The beauty of having a dedicated theater space is it can become home for students, something familiar,” he said. “That is what I have always appreciated about the theater here [at Moravian] and how it serves this community. I would hate to see this change that.” 

While he understands the University’s reluctance to commit significant funds to sustain a small theater program and a small theater space, Shorr noted that neither needs to be lavish. 

“There is a nuanced beauty in what Arena Theater provided for Moravian,” he said. “And I would be more than happy to sit down with President Grigsby and others to help bring that feeling back [here].”