The Nichols Center’s Long-Awaited Opening

Jamie Zou '23, Staff Writer

In December of 2020, Loomis Chaffee initiated a project to expand and modernize the Norris Ely Orchard Theater (NEO). The renovated structure, now named the John D. and Alexandra C. Nichols Center, will include the NEO theater, along with additional spaces for Loomis’ performing arts department, including a blackbox theater and dance studio.
While the NEO’s old framework is preserved in the Nichols Center’s design, the plan also consists of a costume storage and shop, more dressing rooms, a green room, a soundproof booth for technical theater, and better positioned bathrooms. The dance studio, previously located in LC’s athletics center, has been designed and constructed with a view to the Meadows.
Although the Nichols Center was anticipated to open sometime in late February or early March, the official opening of the center is scheduled for April 8. The COVID-19 pandemic has impeded timely construction, with “various supply chain and workforce staffing issues as a result of the pandemic,” said Director of Physical Plant Lance Hall.
Still, at this point in the project, all major construction has finished: “testing and commissioning of the equipment phase will proceed, which will include extensive training to our LC performing arts team,” Mr. Hall said.
The Nichols Center’s opening will be followed by several student productions in the spring. The Main Stage Spring Musical ‘Spamalot’ will take place on April 6 as Loomis’s first show in the NEO performance space since February 2020. Up next on the new stage will be the Spring Dance Showcase.
The renovated NEO provides more seating to the Main Stage and a new lobby to accommodate large student audiences— an increased capacity from 150 to 200 people, along with improved sight lines.
New live streaming capabilities and studios will allow the NEO to hold a variety of events, including Main Stage theater, dance shows and reviews, blackbox theater productions, Second Stage, and film productions like the IDEA Film Show.
“The Nichols Performing Arts Center will be the heart of live performances here at Loomis Chaffee,” said theater director Mr. David McCamish.
In addition to hosting student productions, the center will accommodate theater courses ranging from Acting I & II, Stage Combat, and Acting on Camera to Mask Studies, open to all levels of student performers. Dance classes will also be held in the center with styles ranging from ballet to hip hop. Many courses are aimed at beginner performers looking to try out a new discipline or completing their arts requirements.
With the opening of the Nichols Center drawing nearer, students are looking forward to visiting the new space and watching student performances in it.

“I’ve only seen a quick virtual tour of the Nichols Center provided by LC’s Instagram page,” said Seth Sukboontip ’23. “I’m looking forward to visiting the space in-person and watching student productions.