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A look inside the new McKnight Center

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McKnight Center

The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts at Oklahoma State University is scheduled to open in October 2019.

On a warm September morning, I walked inside of the clean, sleek McKnight Center for the Performing Arts for the first time. It has been surreal to watch this building be built from the ground up since the beginning of its construction, so a tour was essential. What an incredible event to occur at Oklahoma State: a brand new performing arts center being built right on campus. We as music students here at OSU are incredibly lucky to have people like the Greenwoods and the McKnights to expedite our needs as musicians by donating the world class facilities that are being built right here in Stillwater. These buildings will pioneer a new age of culture and music in Stillwater for years to come.

Ali Lewis, McKnight Center intern and senior in Music Industry, appeared from around the curved box office dressed in her best tour guide attire. The tour began with the performance hall. 

The first stop was a large, curvy room with cedar paneling around the sides. The panels were smooth and arched like ocean waves crashing over one another. The panels on the ceilingless hall were thin, billowy expansions of wood that gently cradled the cat walk above the seats. In the midst of the delicate pieces of wood were lights hung by string, cascading down at different heights. It was reminiscent of the floating candles the illuminate the fictional Great Hall Hogwarts, a la Harry Potter. 

“This is the performance hall,” Lewis said as we stepped into the echoing hall. “It has 1,098 seats, which is small and intimate for a performing arts center. Usually they’re double in size.” 

This was a shock to me, as the room seemed cavernous with its vaulted ceiling and rows upon rows of chairs. It was hard for me to imagine a larger hall. The room was equipped with box seats on either side, and several handicap accessible areas on the main floor and balcony. 

After we returned to the mezzanine, we were joined by the McKnight Center’s Director of Marketing, Jessica Novak. 

As the tour continued, there was a noticeable design theme of waves and curved surfaces. From the winding grand staircase on the eastern side of the building, to the tiles in the hallways designed with tiny waves. It seemed as though every crevice of the building was meticulously planned to exhibit the same theme. Each room was clearly well thought out when it comes to the architecture and interior design. 

“The designers were inspired by the idea of people on stage putting sound waves out, and having what they do on stage ripple out to other communities,” Novak explained. “They also wanted to encourage curiosity and the idea of propelling people forward. With the curves, you’re always thinking, ‘what’s around that corner?’”

We walked up the swirling staircase, which wrapped up to the Donor’s Lounge and the box seat entrance to the Performance Hall. The box and balcony seats are only 100 feet away from the stage, a reasonable distance considering the size of the hall.  From the balcony, there was a great view of the floating lights that twinkled softly over the theater. 

“The designer’s idea behind that was to blend the boundary between inside and outside, which is why there is that glass curtain in the lobby,” said Novak about the fixture. “They wanted this chandelier to look like stars in the prairie sky.” Another subtly beautiful recurring theme throughout the center. Even in the dressing rooms, the wallpaper is a white, glittery shade to resemble the stars glowing in the Oklahoma sky. 

We ventured downstairs and explored the basement, which was a maze of dressing rooms, long hallways, offices, and the loading dock. The backstage had plenty of space for performers to move freely throughout with their instruments.

The tour concluded by circling back to the lobby, adjacent to the outdoor seating area. This part of the McKnight Center is a multi-functional space for outdoor concerts and for viewing sold out shows. 

“Any time we have a sold out performance, the big 32-foot LED screen out there will be simulcasting the performance here, so if you couldn’t get a ticket, you can just sit for free on the plaza,” Novak said. 

Not only is there the fresh, green lawn to watch a concert or festival, but there is a unique sculpture dedicated to the center. "DNA IV" was donated to the McKnight Center by artist Bill Barrett, and the official sculpture dedication is on Friday, Sept 27 at 1:30 p.m., including performances and the ribbon cutting at 2 p.m. the following day. 

This refreshing building is unlike any other space on campus or in Stillwater. From its overarching themes of twinkling lights and curving lines, to the diverse music culture it brings to our town.