The Madison oasis

JMU's new venue for the performing arts

I was in a student at Harrisonburg High School when my friend Sandy and I got all dressed up, and with newly minted drivers’ licenses we took ourselves to what felt like the very grownup world of theater at “the college.” We had seen plenty of movies in Harrisonburg’s two downtown theaters, but this was different.  It was live performance. The show we saw in Anthony-Seeger’s auditorium that night was Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood. Another evening we ventured to Duke  Hall to see Oliver Twist. As a wanna-be actress, I was enthralled as Fagin came alive on Duke’s Latimer-Shaeffer stage.  Later, I enjoyed the marvelous 17-year run of the JMU Dinner Theatre with offerings like Once Upon a Mattress and The Foreigner. To me — a “townie” — Madison was an oasis of culture and art in the middle of my sleepy, agrarian community where the most exciting thing to happen during in my whole childhood was the Big Snow of 1962 — the weather.

I was growing up, touching art here and there, while Madison was nurturing talent in art, music, theater and dance. As a young mother, JMU became the place to find something extraordinary, something artistic, something that lifted the soul. I took my daughter to see the Russian Ballet, my parents to see Annie Get Your Gun and my sons to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and pianist Leon Bates. When my then-8-year-old son said he thought he’d like to see an opera, we packed off with two friends to see Die Fledermaus in Wilson Hall’s auditorium.  My son fell asleep — okay, he was 8 — but I marveled at the talent and even more at this wonderful oasis of the visual and performing arts that shimmered in the workaday valley.

I looked up “art” in the dictionary.  Even Mr. Webster has trouble defining it — it’s a skill, an occupation, an approach, a perspective.  Perhaps it is hard to define because creativity and imagination defy explanation.  Art must be experienced.  And soon — very soon now — a monumental change is coming that will elevate the arts to a plane never before seen in the valley when JMU’s new Forbes Center for the Performing Arts opens.  For the first time in JMU’s history, the arts will have a showcase to match the massive talent they have fostered for so long — a place where art and drama and comedy, where dance and music, where operas and recitals and concerts will shine. The Forbes Center will be a thrilling new venue for JMU’s arts community — but for the valley, it will mean that the Madison oasis will spill over into a community like never before and that imagination, excitement, achievement, creativity and talent will beckon and enrich the entire Shenandoah Valley.

Learn more about JMU’s new performing arts center at:


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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