The Little Theatre, located in the rear of Riley Hall, is WPI's primary academic theatre performance space. It opened in November of 2005 and continues to serve as a world class intimate theatre setting.
The Little Theatre is a flexible theatrical space which houses more than a half dozen plays every year. The space lends itself to intimate performances and allows for a variety of seating arrangements with two permanent seating banks and a moveable set of seats. Productions in the Little Theatre are oriented toward breaking new ground in technology and utilizing state of the art equipment and software. The Little Theatre has seen everything from William Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams to plays less than 24 hours old. The Little Theatre encourages creativity and expression and is a spectacular learning space for students at WPI.
"Sanford Riley Hall was completed in September of 1927 (Archives)." At this time, the basement housed several offices and rooms. What is today Riley Commons was split into a common room and a larger dining room. The Little Theatre space was known solely as the service wing. The WPI Journal, in October of 1927, notes the service wing as "divided into a main kitchen, a cold meats and salad kitchen, dish washing room, chef's room and help's dining room." The main kitchen was "fully equipped with gas ranges, broiler and roaster, gas oven, kettle and steamer, pot sink, baker's table, meat bench and block, bread mixer, cupboards and refrigerator."
At a later time, the space became known as The Goat's Head Pub. Among other things, alcohol was sold and served here. However, Massachusetts increased the drinking age from 18 to 21 on April 16th of 1979. Sometime after the drinking age went up, the Goat's Head Pub became Gompei's Place. More recent graduates recall Gompei's Pizza. There was a counter, a few tables and chairs, and it looked like a mini-restaurant.
Before we took over the space, and with the creation of the Campus Center, Gompei's Pizza was dismantled and the space was being used mainly for [disorganized] storage of chairs and various other things. There was a drop ceiling with missing ceiling tiles and wires hanging out loose. It was very dirty and dark, with holes in the walls and a low ceiling. Tables and chairs were piled up alongside boxes and other things. The tile on the floor was checkered and unimpressive.
The grant for the creation of the Little Theatre transformed the old Pub into a wonderful theatre.
Want to know more? check out the Little Theatre Introduction from the E-term 2005 IQP that chronicles the transformation.