“One of our oldest dreams is coming true,” celebrated violist and longtime MIT faculty member Marcus Thompson told an audience assembled in November to celebrate the opening of W97, MIT’s new performing arts building at 345 Vassar Street. From his vantage point of four decades teaching music performance at MIT, Thompson declared, “It’s hard to describe the thrill of the MIT performing arts now having our own ‘lab’ where we can experiment, collaborate, rehearse— and share our creation and innovation with the MIT community and the wider world.”
Student enrollment in theater arts has doubled since 2012, and Course 21M (Music and Theater Arts) draws the fifth-largest enrollment of any course at MIT—yet MIT’s theater program was, until recently, scattered across several buildings. Now the program has a dedicated home in Building W97, a gut-renovated warehouse that contains a 180-seat tech-friendly blackbox theater, costume and scene design shops, dressing rooms, and studios for classes that enable experiments with theater technology.
“There is a great focus at MIT on innovation and experimentation in all the technical and scientific areas, and our students also want and need to know about the comparable range of exciting innovation, research, and experimentation in the arts,” says theater artist and senior lecturer Anna Kohler, who directed the space’s inaugural production, Everybody, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.
W97 is a milestone in MIT’s commitment to invest in the artistic endeavors of its community with spaces that, in the words of President L. Rafael Reif, “live up to the quality of their creativity.” MIT is also planning to centralize its thriving music program in a West Campus building. Containing a small performance venue, rehearsal and practice spaces, and administrative offices, the new music building will enable students and faculty to better explore the fertile intersection of music, technology, science, and linguistics.
“For so many students,” Thompson said in 2015 on the occasion of his appointment to the highest faculty honor of Institute Professor, “the serious study of music is an integral part of Institute life… Our students are very drawn to it, they’re very good at it, and it becomes part of their lifelong learning.”