James Madison University has raised the curtain on its $82 million home for the performing arts. The Forbes Center houses theater, music and dance. Plus, it is where students and audiences come together.

The 175,000 square foot complex in Harrisonburg is actually two connected buildings; music on one side, theater and dance on the other. In the center is a common lobby and box office that sends audiences to one of five distinct performance halls. The dramatic, eye-catching spaces inside the Forbes Center are the crown jewel for the study of performing arts.

"We have fabulous students, great faculty; everything we needed except facilities," said JMU School of Music Director Jeff Showell. "And finally we're complete. It's astonishing to see."

The north side of the center is all about music with a 200 seat recital hall and a 600 seat main concert venue with wrap-around seating and adjustable acoustics.

"We can accommodate anything on that stage from a string quartet to the world's loudest jazz band or the Verdi Requiem or whatever," said Showell. "The hall will absorb or amplify whatever we want."

To the south are three more venues for theater and dance; from a 150 seat studio space for experimental productions to a main stage theater that seats 450 people for major shows. A common lobby connects students from the two schools.

"They'll cross paths and say, ‘I want to come see what you're doing...and oh, maybe I'll create a piece of music for you,'" said Marilou Johnson of JMU visual and performing arts. "There's a little bit of that that goes on now, but we imagine the sky's the limit."

The Forbes Center allows theater and dance students to hone their craft in one facility rather than a half-dozen scattered across campus. It is also where musicians will take their talent and skill to the next level.

"The ultimate goal of the performance study is to perform, and this is where they'll get the test," said Showell.

The Forbes Center had been on the university's wish list for at least 20 years and was finally funded by a state higher-education bond package. A dedicated parking garage will serve visitors coming to shows and the complex is connected to the JMU quad by a pedestrian tunnel under Main Street.

Reported by Ken Slack
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