The Story of Sophia Fahs Theater

The Sophia Fahs Theatre

photo-bldg-sophia-fahs-bThis is the unlikely story of how “The Small Auditorium” came into being. When our two church buildings were united, there was a need for a children’s worship room. What was wanted was “a room big enough to hold 100 young ones (sitting on the floor) but small enough not to intimidate them.

It was not supposed to be a chapel and look like a chapel, but it wasn’t supposed to be just another room nor look like any other room. It was supposed to be their special place…which would easily enhance one candle and a rose, or a puppet show, or films, and children singing, talking, dancing.”

The Sophia Fahs Theater (The Small Aud as opposed to the Big Aud) was designed by James Hull Miller, Princeton graduate, who had designed 100 theaters in the US — often in rooms with dual or multi used: school cafeterias with a stream separating eating/audience spaces. Because he had never done a church, he designed our room pro bono.There were lots of ideas about how the children could use The Small Aud. But what would be the secondary use of what we knew would be the only intimate space in town?

The first to approach our minister was Arthur Lithgow, artistic director of McCarter Theatre, and father of John Lithgow. Arthur had always wanted the McCarter to have a children’s component, but the facilities at McCarter were inappropriate for kids. Our new space was ideal!  Lithgow asked if we would co-sponsor a theatre for youth. We were and Unitarian kids got a discount and first chance to register. In all, 80 kids from second grade through high school, enrolled in the first year. And that is how the Creative Theatre was founded and lasted for the next 22 years. It was born because our children’s worship space existed – not the reverse. The second person to come running with a brilliant idea was a member, Doris Allen, who created Les Muse En Serie. It was a public cultural series for adults primarily.

The opener was a mind-blower: two dancers from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company who came from New York to choreograph and perform an evening of dance that would demonstrate all the uses of the room’s space. The Small Aud was dark, Carol Allen remembers, and the male and female dancers had twinkling Xmas tree lights wrapped around them. They danced on the rounded apron of the stage, then danced unseen behind the curved wall with the lights glittering on the ceiling, and then they danced the famous Merce Cunningham run all around the perimeter of the room.

They understood what the children already knew — it’s a good place to let yourself go.  And soon several adults did the same, this being the Age of Aquarius.    ~Carl H. Haag