A campus theater offers something vital to collegiate life the arts. While many students appreciate the scholastics, the party life, and the independent experience of a University, there are also many who thrive on the performances that are available at their colleges. As a result, many of the best campus theaters are designed to evoke a sense of artistic life for their respective students.
Universities typically invest a lot into their theaters, which are also called performing arts centers. Not only do they provide a place for theater students to express themselves and learn about their art, it also provides a place for the neighboring community to attend performances and shows.
How Are We Selecting These Student Theaters?
Each of the 25 theaters that we’re going to be featuring in this guide adds something truly special to their respective colleges. In fact, each is thoroughly unique from each other, which means that we needed to establish a good methodology when we selected each. As a result, each of the school’s arts centers that we are reviewing will be selected based on:
- General Architecture
- Seating Capacity
- Yearly Events and Showings
- Unique Features
Now that you know about our criteria, here is our list of the 25 best campus theaters in the U.S.
Starting out our list of amazing college theaters is the Yale Repertory Theater. Now celebrating its 50th year in existence, the Yale Repertory Theater provides an arts home to over 12,000 students. In the collegiate theater world, there are few entryways that are more iconic than the bold arched opening to the cathedral-like Repertory Theater. Emblazoned across the doorway is a red-banded sign, which displays the name of the venue.
Its cathedral-like design is no coincidence; the theater is actually a repurposed Baptist church. Its main performance area boasts a sizable main stage and provides ample space for over 450 guests. The environment is definitely intimate, with a homey design that is clearly influenced by the architecture of the repurposed church that was built there over 160 years ago.
Today, there are a wide variety of shows and events at the Repertory Theater, including performances of Imogen Says Nothing, Mary Jane, and Scenes from Court Life.Additionally, the theater also has programs that are designed to help foster a sense of artistry in the New Haven, Connecticut youth.
You can learn more about the Yale Theatre Department here.
University of Rochester
The Kodak Hall at Eastman Theater originally opened at the University of Rochester in 1922. Home to the Eastman School of Music at Rochester, this theater has a very modern-looking architectural style on its outside and a very baroque-looking design on its inside. Truth be told, the outside of this building is very impressive, but its internal design is what makes this theater worthy of its placement in this guide.
In fact, the design is an amazing representation of some of the architectural styles of the 1920s, with marble features and an ornate ceiling that has to be seen to be believed. The theater is home to the graduating classes of the school, including its medical wing, and it also houses the performances of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
While recent renovation has led to the auditorium’s original 3,352 seats being downsized for the guest’s comfort, the theater has added an additional wing in 2010 that has its own recital hall that can host 222 guests.
You can learn more about the University of Rochester Theatre Department here.
Majestic is an apt description of Emerson College’s famous theater. The school itself has always been celebrated for its arts program, so it should be no surprise that the Majestic Theater would provide a truly celebratory experience for theater goers.
The Cutler began its history in 1903 as an independent venue that was designed by John Galen-Howard. Originally designed for theater, the Cutler was eventually converted to host vaudeville shows and eventually movies.
During this time period, much of the Beaux-Arts architecture was covered by more vaudeville-friendly architecture. In the 1980s, Emerson purchased the theater and restored it to its original looks so that now it has a turn-of-the-century grandeur that is not easily matched on most college campuses.
Each of the unique features of this theater embraces the gold, red, and marble designs that were famous during the 1900s. The theater itself seats slightly less than 1200 and is home to ballets, dance recitals, musicals, and plays. If you’re looking for a show, plays like Cendrillon and Titanic are starting soon.
You can learn more about the Emerson College Theatre Department here.
California State University
A LEED Gold Certified theater, the Valley Performing Arts Center is a university theater that clearly is designed to provide an excellent theater-going experience, while also reducing the carbon footprint of the facility. The architecture of the arts center is clearly in an ultra-modern style, but it truly shines in its materials; the facility is constructed of purely sustainably sourced materials.
The main theater houses 1700 seats and is home to a series of great shows, including Hansel & Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat and vivacious shows like Shaolin Warriors: The Legend Continues. In addition to its theater functionality, the building also has a 230-seat lecture hall for its students as well as a number of smaller classrooms.
You can learn more about the California State University Theatre Program here.
University of Notre Dame
The DeBartolo Performing Arts Center is one of the most prestigious university theaters in the world. In fact, it boasts nearly 100,000 yearly patrons. The main performance venue, the Leighton Concert Hall, is truly massive and has a uniquely rounded shape that culminates in a large wooden stage. The hall itself is over ten stories high, so patrons will find it relatively easy to find a view, especially since the Leighton can accommodate 840.
DeBartolo is also a venue famous for its famous collaborators, Sean Astin and Tim Robbins are known to appear at the hall for lectures, and the many shows at the center also feature famous actors like Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart.
You can learn more about the University of Notre Dame theatre program here.
Another newer theater, the Schwartz Center, opened its doors to the student body and the general public in 2003. This theater is home to the Cherry Logan Emerson Concert Hall, which has room for 800 patrons and features a choral balcony as well as an orchestra pit. Built in a shoebox architectural design that features a large stage and several balconies for seating guests, the theater is truly a sight to behold and a very unique experience.
Additionally, the Schwartz Center has a 135-seat theater lab that serves as a place for performing arts students to practice their craft. In addition to this, there is also a 125-seat dance studio, which features an activity sprung floor for dance majors. There are several upcoming events at the Schwartz Center, including a sold-out performance by soprano great, Renee Flemming.
You can learn more about the Emory University theatre program here.
University of Massachusetts
UMASS’s Fine Arts Center is one of its campus’s defining features. Set next to the campus’s large central pond, the FAC, as it’s called by students, is designed to serve as a bridge that spans the center of campus. On one side, you have the campus library, the student union, and dorms, and on the other, you find some of the school’s sporting areas, lecture halls, and the city-like housing area of Southwest.
Patrons of the arts are at home in the Fine Arts Center; inside its halls, you can find a full representation of the visual arts through exhibitions and art events and art student projects. For the performing arts, you can find a 2,000-seat concert hall that has performances by companies like the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. As a result of its varied programs, the FAC is one of the best campus theaters in the northeast.
You can learn more about the University of Massachusetts theatre program here.
Established in 1979, the Mason Gross is home to several artistic venues that enhance the creative life of Rutgers students. Its largest venue, the Nicholas Music Center, seats 740 patrons and students but is only one of a wide variety of artistic offerings that include, The Richard H. Shindell Choral Hall, The Loree Dance Theater, The Jameson Studio Theater, and the Schare Recital Hall.
Each of these venues helps to form the overarching structure of the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center, making it a place to view art, see a play, witness a dance recital, or listen to live music. The Performing Arts Center itself has a stoic brick design that is almost imposing, and its internal halls differ significantly in order to provide a varied experience.
You can learn more about the Rutgers University theatre program here.
University of Pennsylvania
The Perelman Quadrangle is famous among the students at UPENN and serves as the oldest entry in our listing of the 25 best campus theaters. With buildings that date back as far as 1871, just exploring this center of the arts at the University of Pennsylvania is like witnessing a slice of post-war history. Each of the buildings in this area of the school is dedicated to the arts; and as a result, visitors can see a plethora of great shows, art installations, and musical performances throughout the year.
The Irvine Auditorium is probably the most famous building in the quadrangle due to its 1920s Gothic architecture that is at home amongst the famous buildings of Philadelphia. With an outward appearance that would be at home during the medieval era, the Auditorium is home to many modern features and has a seating capacity of 1,260.
You can learn more about the Penn Theatre Arts Department here.
State University of New York Fredonia
The Rockefeller Arts Center is another amazing college theater that was originally designed in 196. The 120,000 square foot building is complete with a 1,200-seat concert hall, three theaters, classrooms, rehearsal halls, and studios. One of the most popular presentations at the theater is the Kaleidoscope series, which features the show Mutts Gone Nuts.
The building has a unique design of geometric shapes that offers a unique artistic look. Currently, there is a renovation/expansion of the building occurring, which will give the students the space they need to perform their arts. The expansion is expected to be 40,000 square feet, which will include a redesign of the front of the theater as well as a dedicated art space, a music space, and additional dance studios.
You can learn more about the Fredonia Department of Theatre and Dance here.
The next theater on our list, which is the Historic Merle Reskin Theater, has been a Chicago favorite since 1910. The Stage has been a South Loop mainstay that has called the Blackstone Theater, but in 1992, it was renovated and renamed. Mr. and Mrs. Harold Reskin donated a rather generous amount of money to have the building renovated.
The exterior design of the building features a lot of columns and bricks, but the interior aesthetic features French Renaissance architecture that is amazing. The theater seats 1,325 individuals, which is down from the original 1,400 because of the addition of the orchestra pit near the stage.
DePaul University Theatre Department here.
Colorado Mesa University
The Moss Performing Arts Center is another one of the best campus theaters in the country. This arts center is located at the Colorado Mesa University. The building features an angular design both inside and out that accents the performances and shows that are held here. Though the design is pleasing to the eye, the theaters are where the building shines. There William S. Robinson Theater is the largest space. It features an auditorium style stage that seats 600 individuals.
For a more intimate space to perform, the Carolyn Love Recital Hall is perfect. It has 300 seats in the space and it is perfect for dance recitals and smaller performances. There is also a design studio where students can create their costumes and a dance studio that has amazing views of the Grand Valley.
You can learn more about Colorado Mesa Theatre Department here.
The Schwartz Center for the Performing arts, which is located at Cornell University, is another one of the great student theaters on our list. It was opened in 2003, and it attracts more than 20,000 individuals a year with its varied list of performances and activities. The exterior of the building is a brick and marble façade that is delightful to look at, while the inside features a more elegant styling.
This building is home to several theaters. The Kiplinger Theater is designed to accommodate 446 to 471 individuals. The seats in this space can be adjusted to accommodate the performance. For a more intimate space, the Class of ’56 Flexible Theater is designed for smaller performances and audiences of 150 to 175 individuals. There is a film form that features a 100–seat proscenium design that is used for film screenings as well as a dance studio with 130 seats.
You can learn more about Cornell University Department of Performing & Media Arts here.
Michigan State University
The Wharton Center for Performing Arts was opened in 1982. The aesthetic of the building is very pleasing to the eyes; in fact, the curved front looks like a movie screen. Inside, you will find four unique stages that vary in size. The Cobb Great Hall, the Pasant Theater, the MSU Concert Auditorium, and the Fairchild Theater, each of which host jazz, dance, and theatrical performances throughout the year.
The reason that this theater gets a location on our list of amazing college theaters is that it has some incredible shows that have been performed here. It is the largest performing arts venue on any college campus, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played at the inaugural performance. There have also been Broadway performances like The Lion King, Wicked, and Phantom of the Opera at the Wharton Center.
You can learn more about the Michigan State University Department of Theatre here.
The next student theater on our list is the Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center at Pacific University. This building was opened in the year 1993, and it features several spaces that the students can utilize for their artistic endeavors. The McCeady hall is a venue that has 400 seats, which means the space is plenty big enough for the music department’s Symphonic Band, Philharmonic Orchestra, and Chamber Singers.
Many renowned musicians and performers have graced this stage with their presence, and there have also been several lectures presented to the students in this venue. In addition to this large theater, there is also the Burlingham Rehearsal Room that gives students a more intimate space to practice their arts as a group. There are nine practice rooms as well as a piano lab in the building. The rooms have all been designed to enhance the sound of music and bring an extraordinary performance to the visitors.
You can learn more about the Pacific University Theatre Department here.
New York University
New York University’s Skirball Center was constructed in the heart of Greenwich Village in 2003. The theater can seat 850 individuals and finishing the construction of this large theater cost about $40 million. One of the reasons that this location is considered for this list of the best college theaters is the Big Red Chair Series that is designed to introduce families with younger children to the world of the performing arts. It features performances like Odd Squad Live! and Peter Rabbit Tales.
With this many comfortable seats, the theater holds more people than some Broadway theaters, which makes it an ideal location to put on a show. In addition, the stage is a sprung stage, which makes it a great place for dance recitals and performances.
You can learn more about the NYU Tisch Theatre Department here.
Also known as the Theater and Interpretation Center, the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center has five dedicated venues to accommodate a wide variety of artistic endeavors. Originally constructed in 1980, the theater has a modern, glass-faced design that provides an open experience for theater goers. Since the Wirtz Center is rectangular in shape, the building has come to be nicknamed, The Box the Library Came In, since the school’s library is situated nearby.
The primary theater in the Center complex is the Ethel M. Barber Theater, which houses 439 seats for its patrons and is designed in the thrust-style. The second theater, which is called the Josephine Louis Theater, can accommodate a still-impressive 350 guests. The Louis Theater also is designed in the proscenium style, which is perfect for concerts and orchestral events. The final two theaters each house 100 guests and are named the Hal and Martha Hyer Wallis Theater and the Mussetter-Struble Theater respectively. The final venue is the Cahn Auditorium, which houses an impressive 1,000 seats.
You can learn more about the Northwestern University Department of Theatre here.
The Regent Theater Complex was created in the year 1919, which makes it one of the oldest campus theaters on our list. To put this into perspective, the city tax rolls in Syracuse indicate that the original cost of the building was only $58,000. The 1965 renovations cost one million dollars, which was more than 17 times more than the cost of the original building.
The exterior of the building show its age, but the interior of the building has three theaters. The first theater, which is the largest, is the John D. Archbold Theater. It has a proscenium design that seats nearly 500 guests. The second theater is slightly more intimate. The Arthur Storch Theater can host 200 to 250 people and can be configured to the needs of the production. The final venue, the Loft Theater, is designed for a more intimate experience; seating only 65 guests.
You can learn more about the Syracuse University Department of Drama here.
Another one of the best campus theaters on our list is located at Brown University. Designed to be open in aesthetic, the Granoff Center was constructed in a loft-style that has floor-to-ceiling style windows. This feature allows a lot of natural light into the center, which makes it a sight to behold. According to one of its architects, the design was built on one concept: We wanted a building that would welcome the public and expose the art process.
Its performance space is relatively meager; it only hosts 218 guests at a time. Even with this limited seating, the Grandoff Center is home to both artistic learning and a wide variety of shows performed by the students. In addition to all of this, there is an outdoor amphitheater that allows for outdoor performances and summer movie screenings.
You can learn more about the Brown University Department of Theatre here.
George Mason University
This theater is a fairly recent addition to the George Mason University; in fact, it only opened in 2010. This 85,000 square foot performing arts center has gorgeous, ornate columns and a glass façade that you see upon entering the building.
Inside its massive 1,123-seat Merchant Hall, one of the most beautiful aesthetics of all of the theaters on our list can be seen. Not only is it intimate, but it is also highly functional with an orchestra pit and a 100-foot stage. The main opera house is designed in a proscenium style and is home to opera, symphony, and traditional theatrical performances. For a more intimate experience, the Hylton also houses the 240 seat Gregory Family Theater that is ideal for recitals and dance productions.
You can learn more about the George Mason University School of Theatre here.
Bryn Mawr College
One of the best college theaters, the Marjorie Walter Goodhart Theater, finished construction in the year 1928, which makes it one of the oldest on our list. From the outside, the building resembles a cathedral or a large church, which is a design aesthetic that continues to be seen in the design of the theater and the halls of the building. As a result of the exquisite stonework, this theater has some of the best acoustics of any theater in the country. Inside the building, visitors find also find carvings, stone statues, friezes, and iron work throughout.
The seating in this theater is auditorium style with a capacity that seats 512 individuals. Additionally, there is also a teaching theater with a capacity to seat 200, a 120-seat music room, and a common room with 100 seats. Every year, the theater is used for student productions, dance concerts, and traditional theater.
You can learn more about the Bryn Mawn Theatre Department here.
The Elliot Hall of Music has been in operation since 1940. This amazing college theater is one of the largest proscenium theaters in the world. In fact, it has 100 more seats that Radio City Music Hall, which is a famous location that was partially designed by the same architect. This immense hall has a seating capacity of over 6,000.
The round shaping of the Elliot Hall of Music provides more than optimal acoustics for the hundreds of shows that are presented annually. Since this building has such a large seating capacity, this is the building where the winter commencement exercises are held. It is also the home to Purdue’s famous all American marching band. Over the years, the Elliot Hall of Music has served as the venue for famous individuals like Bob Hope, Mia Angelo, and even the Dalai Lama himself.
You can learn more about the Purdue University Theatre Department here.
The Brooks Center is one of the best college theaters it is based at South Carolina’s Clemson University, and it was dedicated in the year 1994. In fact, it was created as a result of a $2.5 million donation from its namesake, Clemson alumni, Robert Howell Brooks. This is a beautiful building it has a red brick façade and a sophisticated design that makes it stand out.
The theater of the Brooks Center is designed in a proscenium style that has excellent acoustics for the multitude of shows and performances that happen within its halls. There is ample room for 968 visitors, and the center also has a 100-seat black box theater as well as a recital room with a similar amount of seats.
The 90,000 square foot building is the location where the department of performing arts creates theater productions, choral ensembles, and orchestral music for everyone to enjoy. Recent productions include Avenue Q and Mamma Mia.
Another one of the amazing college theaters on our list is the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center. Built in honor of the Vincennes native, Red Skelton, who was a whimsical star of stage, screen, and radio, this center first opened its doors in 2006. The center has a very modern design that used a lot of straight edges, accentuated angles, and rounded structures.
Internally, the first thing that visitors experience is an art gallery that displays some of Red Skelton’s famous works of art. The theater itself has a triple layer of seating and can accommodate 850 patrons and guests. Additionally, the center also has a number of classrooms and rehearsal space for the students to make use of.
Insofar as events, the Red Skelton Performing arts Center holds Guitar Fest as well as multiple other shows and performances throughout the year.
The Fisher Center was originally designed in 2003 by Frank Gehry, who is the same distinguished architect that created the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California. The building is 107,000 square feet and the face of the building is designed to represent a theatrical mask. The mask is made up of 5,647 stainless steel shingles and provides one of the most unique aesthetic experiences of the Bard College campus.
There are two separate theaters within this building; the larger of the two theaters seats 800 people and features a proscenium stage, which a Greek-inspired design that is arched and designed for music. The high ceilings provide optimal acoustics, and the convex surfaces in the room helps to diffuse the sound amongst the audience. There is also a second theater that seats 200 people per performance.
The theater is used for music, dance, and traditional theatrical performances throughout the year. In February, the Spring Events Concert will be the French Connection: Django Reinhardt and the French Salon.
You can learn more about the Bard College theatre department here.