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April 26, 2002 - Aquinas College, Circle Theatre and the Catholic Secondary Schools (CSS) of Greater Grand Rapids have produced a unique collaboration that will bring a new performing arts facility to the community. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the Aquinas College Performing Arts Center will be held on Monday, May 6, 2002, at 5:30 p.m., on the College's Robinson Road property site near Plymouth Road S.E.

The unique collaboration meshes college theatre arts with community theatre and high school drama to create an environment of education, enrichment and entertainment under one roof. The cost of the project, including an operating endowment, is $7 million.

The new theatre, being built on the Aquinas campus, is slated for completion in the summer of 2003. The facility's main stage mirrors contemporary professional theatre, with 410 permanent seats that can be expanded to 500 for special events.

The collaboration with Circle Theatre means the two will not only share quality performance space, but also will develop joint year-round programming in myriad aspects of theatre and expand academic opportunities for college students majoring in theatre arts. Such joint programming is already underway.

"I continue to be more and more excited about this multifaceted collaboration with each passing day," said Harry J. Knopke, president of Aquinas College. "It expands, significantly, the number and kinds of educational opportunities available for young people in our community, from early education through college. In doing so, it will also enrich the broader community through myriad forms of theatrical entertainment, some of which will be new to our area."

For Circle Theatre, the collaboration not only provides tremendous opportunities with everyone involved, but it establishes a permanent home for its entire theatre operation.

"All of us at Circle are excited to begin this next phase of the collaboration. The new facility will provide Circle patrons with a beautiful performance space that will maintain the intimacy we now enjoy. This new performance pavilion will bring our patrons increased quality and comfort while providing our staff and actors a permanent place to call home," said Joe Dulin, managing director of Circle Theatre.

The partnership with the Catholic Secondary Schools reserves theatre time for separate and joint high school productions for both Catholic Central and West Catholic high schools. It will also create opportunities for drama students at both schools to earn college-level credit in theatre arts coursework and to be involved in both Aquinas and Circle Theatre productions. This feature of the partnership is already in progress.

Clearly, for the CSS, the partnership broadens the opportunities for its high school drama students.

"We are pleased with this project as a living example of collaboration to support the learning needs of our students in theater arts and as another contribution to the larger community by the Catholic Secondary Schools," explained Brian Annable, Executive Director.

In addition, as the collaboration has incorporated the professional staff of Circle Theatre into the Aquinas Theatre Arts Department, it will also provide opportunities for CSS teachers to be included as adjunct faculty at the College

Funding for the project has come through a joint Aquinas College/Circle Theatre capital campaign and includes a major contribution from supporters of the Catholic Secondary Schools.

The Performing Arts Center will open next summer during the middle of Circle Theater's April-September production schedule.