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Going Greek or Roman? Northeast has grand opening for new amphitheater

September 11th, 2015 10:26 am by Rick Wagner

Going Greek or Roman? Northeast has grand opening for new amphitheater

William Wilson, dean of humanities at Northeast State Community College, speaks during Thursday's grand opening of the new 400-seat, $300,000 outdoor amphitheater at the Blountville campus.

BLOUNTVILLE — The grand opening of Northeast State Community College’s outdoor amphitheater fell on a Thursday afternoon, just like the rain did.

It might have been a great start to a Greek or Roman tragedy performed in such an outdoor venue that dates back to the dawn of western civilization.

However, college officials said the outlook is anything but dreary for the amphitheater, which is surrounded by green grass from recent sowed seeds and already has an event planned for later this month and one for early October. It was completed in early September.

The amphitheater is between the Wayne G. Basler Library, completed in 2006, and the Wellmont Center for the Performing Arts, done in 2008.

“It’s a perfect fit,” said William Wilson, dean of humanities at Northeast. “Even the Greeks would be envious, wouldn’t they?”

He said the venue is a great place for outdoor plays and outdoor meetings, with some students already having claimed favorite seats. It also will be used for classes.

“The past and the future will become one under the skies of Northeast Tennessee,” Wilson said.

Future plans call for the addition of a permanent stage, officials said.

And as if on cue, the rain stopped and a little sunlight came at the end of the news conference, moved indoors because of the weather. So everybody got to walk out and experience the structure firsthand.

Northeast President Janice Gilliam said students already have been using the 400-seat feature as an informal place to meet and network. It adds to the 500-seat auditorium in the performing arts center, where an upstairs hall was used for the news conference because of the rain, as well as more than 200 seats in another auditorium on campus.

Jeff Little, department head for entertainment technology, performed two instrumental pieces on piano as a prelude to the 7 p.m. Sept. 24 performance of the Jeff Little Trio.

One was an old jazz tune called Minor Swing, the other was the fiddle tune Orange Blossom Special. A video of his performances is embedded in the Kingsport Times-News online version of this article.

Gilliam said another event is the upcoming performance by the Community Concert Band from Johnson City as part of the Hot Nights Cool Music series.

The band is directed by the East Tennessee State University band director, which Gilliam said will add another brick in the collaborative wall being built between Northeast and ETSU.

“We are also in the future looking to put up a permanent stage,” Gilliam said during the news conference.

The $300,000 budget for the project would have allowed for only two rows of all-concrete seats, so she said the college and its architectural firm, Ross Fowler Architects of Johnson City, got a little creative with green space. Kingsport-based Armstrong Construction Co. was the contractor.

Instead of solid concrete, the area underfoot while sitting in the amphitheaters is small, round gravel, cutting costs and making for natural drainage.

While walking around the site talking with the media and others, Gilliam said the slope of the site was good but that some soil has to be excavated near the bottom.

“You try to take advantage of what the site gives you,” architect David Craig said, “Basically, that’s what this project is.”

Gilliam said the project also took advantage of the donation of 20 sound panels from Kingsport-based Eastman Chemical Company.

The design of an amphitheater, which dates back to ancient times, makes normal-volume speech from certain areas easily heard in all the seats.

“If you stand at a certain spot, you don’t really need a microphone,” Gilliam said.

Travis Brooks, Northeast theater manager, said the amphitheater gives usage opportunities to the community, students and staff.

“It feels more like a college campus now, doesn’t it?” said Elizabeth Sloan, theater director at Northeast.

Gilliam said the amphitheater comes just in time to be one of the sites for events marking next year’s 50th anniversary of Northeast.

The school’s website said Northeast started out as Tri-Cities State Area Vocational-Technical School in 1966.

Gilliam said anniversary events would run from January of 2016 to a fall homecoming.

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