From sheep to Shakespeare

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – When the audience is watching a live performance of Oscar Wilde’s comedy “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Pavilion Theatre during the week of April 12-23, they might not realize the stage was once home to another kind of “theatre” -- livestock judging, with sheep, cows and horses in the place of actors.

Construction of the Stock Judging Pavilion began in 1913. Designed by renowned American architects Frank Miles Day and Charles Z. Klauder, it was built as part of a plan to improve the facilities of the Department of Animal Husbandry in the then-School of Agriculture (now the College of Agricultural Sciences).

The Pavilion, then as now, was located near the corner of Curtin and Shortlidge Roads. Oval in shape, the interior amphitheatre measured about 120 feet long and 30 feet wide, surrounded on all sides by tiers of concrete seating for 800 spectators. The space also could be divided by curtains, on pulleys, into three classrooms.

The structure held agricultural expositions, judging events, sales and shows, including the annual Little International Dairy Exposition, modeled after Chicago’s International Livestock Exposition. Practical classes in animal husbandry were held in laboratories underneath the concrete tiers, educational work related to the processing and handling of meat and its by-products. The arena also later served as a practice gym for campus athletes.

Penn State's Stock Judging Pavilion

This undated photo of the Stock Judging Pavilion shows a time when Penn State's campus was much less populated.

Image: Penn State University Archives/School of Theatre

In the early 1960s the building was repurposed by the University Theatre, under the direction of the Department of Theatre Arts. The interior was extensively renovated, including excavating the arena floor to a depth of 12 feet below stage level to provide classrooms and dance and rehearsal studios underneath. The building retained its distinctive exterior but added the scallop-roofed portico that visitors recognize today.

When finished, the new performance space held 320 seats for audience members when configured as a full arena in-the-round, and 280 seats when configured for thrust staging (with seats on three sides of the stage). The theatre officially opened on May 9 with "The Chinese Wall," a farce penned by Charles Firsch, a Swiss architect, and directed by John O'Shaughnessy of New York.

In 1995, for its successful renovation and reuse of the building, the Pavilion Theatre won the Award for Excellence in Historical Preservation from the Centre County Historical Society.

Pavilion Theatre, "Next to Normal" performance, 2014

A view from the Pavilion Theatre's lighting booth of a 2014 rehearsal for Centre Stage's "Next to Normal." Originally a livestock judging arena, the structure was repurposed in the 1960s as a modern theatrical performance space.

Image: Patrick Mansell


Last Updated April 11, 2016