Does anyone remember the Humanities Module?
Between the days of the North Campus, now Paul VI High School, and the Humanities Building on the Fairfax Campus, there stood a glorified cardboard box, better known as the Humanities Module. Located next to what was then the Academic 3 building and behind Robinson I, the structure was erected for fall semester 1983 when I was a freshman. It was demolished after I graduated in 1987.
Although the module was bigger than any of the trailer classrooms, it was not a real building of bricks and concrete. The front of the building housed classrooms and the Performing Arts offices. The Music Department was in the middle. The Theater Department occupied the back of the building with faculty offices, the costume shop, and the prop room.
Between the Theater and Music Departments were two performance studios that were to have been separated by a hallway. The Music Department, however, needed more space, so the room was extended and the hallway eliminated, which made you cut through a studio or walk around outside to get to the Theater Department or the restrooms. Music from the music studio warned you to walk around, and the theater classes tolerated the occasional person cutting through. But Lord help the unsuspecting persons who thought it was safe to enter and found themselves on stage in the middle of a scene study.
In addition, the two studios shared a wall without soundproofing. Once, when we were rehearsing Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit, an existential play that defines hell as other people, we could hear "Silent Night" and "Jingle Bells" coming from the Music Studio as a choir prepared for a Christmas concert. Yes, it was hell—real and surreal.
It got cold in the module, and every faculty office had a box heater. If too many outside doors were open, the hallway felt like a wind tunnel. One Saturday, I was directing my independent study project, William Luce's The Belle of Amherst, a one-woman show, and the only room with heat was the women's restroom. Fortunately, no one minded or said anything about a man rehearsing a play in the women's restroom in the Humanities Module.
The new Humanities Building was nearing completion my senior year, and I was very jealous when I toured its new large two-story Black Box Theater in which I would never play. The module's Black Box Theater had black curtains along the walls, box panels for the windows, and a light grid hanging from the ceiling. The box office was a student desk and a cigar box. Even so, when I'm working in a tiny off-Broadway theater these days, I miss that old Black Box.
Since the glorified cardboard box is gone, it wouldn't hurt to reveal its secret kept during those four years—it really was a cardboard box. You never needed campus police to get in the module on weekends. You just had to go to the back door of the costume shop and yank it open. Theater students were always very discreet about the back door and, as far as I know, never abused that knowledge.
Francis Eric Montesa graduated in 1987 with a B.F.A. in Theater. He now lives in New York City, where he works as a stage manager. Montesa has freelanced for such companies as the Actor's Studio, the Arkansas Repertory Theater, the Ubu Repertory Theater, the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, and the Wayside Theater. He also is active in several committees of the Actors' Equity Association, of which he is a member.
Do you fondly remember certain places within the George Mason community that exemplified the "college experience"? Were you befriended by a mentor or professor at George Mason who influenced your life? If so, tell us about it. Send your submission to Alumni Affairs, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MS 3B3, Fairfax, VA 22030. Please keep submissions to a maximum of 500 words.