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Picking the Perfect Place: Inherent Difficulties in Choosing a Fowler Venue


John Stang – News Editor

Wednesday, Sept. 21, political scholar, from the University of Virginia, Larry Sabato, spoke at Roanoke College in Olin Hall at 7:30 p.m. The event was to celebrate Constitution Day. RC students might have noticed that the venue for the event was different than last year’s when former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke.

This year, the event was moved to Olin Hall instead of in Bast like last year’s event. Before last year, the Constitution Day speakers have presented in the Wortmann Ballroom inside the Colket Center.

“The Constitution Day event has always, with only last year as an exception, been held in the Ballroom, which seats 200-250.” said William Hill, director of the Henry Fowler public affairs lecture series and a RC senior lecturer. “At the time the decision to invite Sabato was made I decided that we needed to double the seating capacity by moving to Olin theatre. The theatre was available, and that became the advertised venue.”

Hill also noted that there was an overflow area set up where about 70 people could be placed and a video feed would be produced for those audience members. As far as seating is concerned, no RC student who requested a ticket has been turned down. For most events, overflow is expected, but it is not a publically announced policy. When considering the venue, the college must also take into consideration who the speaker is, when the event will be held, and other factors. With Fowler lectures, this can be hard to predict because the events are planned almost a year in advance.

“We are doing the best we can to predict audience interests 18 months out,” said Stephanie Garst, the director community programs and special events.

On ticket sales, there is also no distinction between the RC students and the community. At one point, tickets stopped going out to the public for Sabato mainly so other RC students could get tickets. The only time a distinction has been made between the community and RC students is when O’Connor spoke last year. At the Sabato lecture itself, many of the audience members who showed up were older community members.

For some speaking events, professors will request tickets for students and make it a requirement to attend a lecture. Garst said that two public affairs professors requested tickets for their classes. She also said that tickets for most events are limited to six per person, but for a Fowler lecture it is just one per person so more students could attend.

The biggest problem when planning events like this is where to hold it. Finding the right venue can be difficult sometimes.

“The College just does not have a venue for a medium sized event, say, 450-1,000. Those of us who are responsible for programming, therefore, are caught between trying to stretch the capacity of smaller venues (Ballroom, Chapel, Theatre) or use Bast with the accompanying inconveniences, expenses, scheduling conflicts, and risk of under-utilization of the space,” Hill said.

With the planning, seating, and overall interest the process of putting on a speaking engagement can be difficult. Both Hill and Garst say that every year they are learning how to iron out the details and make the experience better.