Nestled in between the endless oceans of parking near Lots 5 and 6; hidden behind gnarled trees and construction fences lies a scene of decay and neglect. Behind the Cafeteria Activities Building (CAB), there is concrete seating facing a blank wall. This forgotten structure has no signage nearby; however, it was clearly a theater.
Previously, this structure was not so secluded as it was surrounded by the former Martin Village dorms. No doubt this stage was used for a variety of uses. Its main purpose was probably for showing movies, the picture projected onto the blank wall of the CAB. The Student Union has taken over the task of showing movies with its indoor theater and other amenities.
As of late, the outdoor theater has fallen into a state of relative disrepair. Plants are growing in the cracks of the weathered foundations. Water pools at the lowest levels after large bouts of rain. In its current condition, the theater’s fate is bleak. The Belk Tower’s 2016 demolition shows that unmaintained concrete structures do not tend to stick around, though no blame should be put upon anyone for the lack of maintenance in the first place.
With so many complicated revitalization and construction projects on campus to manage, the outdoor theater is a low priority.
One may ask why we should keep this structure as it could interfere with the University’s future plans for the area. In a Feb. 20, 2018 Niner Times article by Jacob Baum, a map was published showing the massive redevelopment of the eastern portion of campus. Along with rerouting roads and building various new structures, the area that is now occupied with the CAB and the theater is depicted as being turned into a lake. While there is no doubt that this lake would be a nice addition to the space, it would lose the potential that an amphitheater inherently creates.
If the CAB was demolished and the theater seating left in place, we could have an amphitheater on campus for various events and lectures to be held. One use would be for the Department of Theatre, whose current outdoor production setup requires seating be placed around the stage by Robinson and Rowe. This takes away manpower from building the production’s set. An amphitheater would require little to no work in regards of seating, as the structure itself is mostly seating. Student organizations and greek life would also find use from an amphitheater. The space would provide large outdoor seating for events or meetings. The space could also be rented out by third parties seeking an outdoor event space.
The University does not need to scrap the idea of a lake. We can take note of another UNC system school’s campus in Wilmington, UNCW. One of the many features of their campus is an amphitheater which faces a man-made lake. The stage features simple outdoor fabrics to provide shade for speakers and performers. It is comparatively smaller than our existing theater, though we can bring this concept to a larger scale.
Another potential use of space is to incorporate nature within the amphitheater seating itself. Swarthmore College, located in Pennsylvania, has an amphitheater called the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater, where the terraced seats have a covering of living grass. In addition, the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater also has trees growing in the seating area, providing natural shade for event attendees. This nature motif is aesthetically pleasing and would allow the structure to be added to the already incredible botanical gardens on campus.
Our outdoor theater has great potential for our growing University. The East Campus Infrastructure Project is estimated to begin March 2019 and to conclude May 2020. That is just for the traffic improvements. It will no doubt take many years to fully create the changes expected to be made to that part of campus. As we revitalize the eastern area of our University, we should consider breathing new life into our outdoor theater. For now, though, the seats remain empty, waiting for the next show to begin.