Shanley light hits student

Michelle Ma

A permanent ceiling light in the dressing room of Shanley Pavilion fell on a student Sunday, sending him to the hospital. The theater will be closed temporarily for two weeks for repairs, a Northwestern official said.

Mike Kopera, a cast member of “Assassins,” which played last week in Shanley, received a blow to his head during Sunday morning’s striking of the set after one end of a fluorescent light pulled away from the ceiling. The Communication senior sustained cuts to his head and two friends took him to Evanston Hospital.

He was released when the doctor determined Kopera needed no stitches.

“I remember stumbling out of the (dressing) room, hoping I didn’t have a closed head injury,” Kopera said. “I was totally disoriented at first, but it was just an inconvenience for the day.”

Despite the incident’s minor nature, Kopera said his head wound should prove that Shanley needs serious renovation or complete rebuilding.

New fluorescent lighting was added in the main part of Shanley a few years ago. But the dressing room lights, including the fixture that fell, were not updated.

NU will replace the old lights in the dressing room this week with new ones, said Stuart Atkinson, Norris University Center’s technical services manager. Atkinson’s job includes ensuring safety for student-run campus performances.

He said the theater will be closed for about two weeks to repair the lights. Also, there are no student shows scheduled at Shanley during that time.

Antiquated lights are not Shanley’s only problem, Atkinson said. During the summer, university officials found hazardous materials — assumed to be asbestos — in the pipes along the inside perimeter of Shanley, he said. The pipes were properly contained before students began using the theater this fall, Atkinson said.

But only so many renovations can be done to the building before it is time to rethink Shanley’s value, said “Assassins” producer Abra Chusid, a Communication sophomore.

“We always joke about Shanley falling apart,” Chusid said. “Like an old car, you can keep replacing the parts but it will still fall apart.”

Kopera said if he were younger and had more shows ahead of him at NU, he would demand a performance space safer than Shanley.

Atkinson also noted past renovations have helped Shanley be functional as a venue for student productions, but that the facility doesn’t offer the best production venue for students.

“We’re at a crossroads to see if we should keep this venue open,” Atkinson said. “I think we should set a realistic date to close Shanley and have a new (facility) for theater.”

The decision to make significant changes or to build a new facility has not been formally discussed and likely won’t proceed without student suggestions, Atkinson said.

He added that Norris Executive Director Rick Thomas has the prerogative to bring the issue to the table.

Shanley now serves as one of the main venues for independent student theater on campus. Other sites for shows include McCormick Auditorium and the Louis Room, both in Norris, Atkinson said. Typically, Shanley is booked solid throughout the school year.

Uneven floorboards and all, Shanley is a landmark building for NU.

Built in 1943, Shanley originally was a dining hall and recreation center during World War II. In the 1960s, Shanley became a “hippie commune” run by community group called Amazingrace, Atkinson said.

When Evanston asked the group to leave in 1974, NU changed it into a coffee shop. The university added Shanley in the mid-’70s, where it began its transformation into a dinner theater. In the 1980s, Shanley became a building purely for theater.

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