With a "Charlotte's Web" run set to take off next week, actors tested out their new digs Friday following the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a building made possible by the largest-ever donation to Utah Valley University.

The opening of the new Noorda Regional Theatre Center for Children and Youth, adjacent to the Orem campus, will focus on giving K-16 students more exposure to theater and speech-based activities, both as audience members and as creators. The building and a program with the same name are both the result of a generous gift from the Ray and Tye Noorda Foundation.

As a young girl growing up in rural Utah, Tye Noorda was given few opportunities to perform in public settings. After leaving high school, she moved to Salt Lake City, where she was able to compete in several speech competitions and perform in a number of plays — opportunities that she believes helped her to develop confidence and a willingness to put herself in sometimes difficult, but rewarding situations.

Now, looking back on her life, Noorda attributes much of her success to those formative experiences in theater and behind the podium.

She directed the undisclosed gift as a tribute to her husband, Ray Noorda, and was inspired by the Theatre for Youth movement. She envisions the program as something that will offer youth experiences that she had missed at their age and hopes it helps them "learn about themselves, work with others, develop speech and performance skills and learn to effectively represent themselves and others in a public forum," she said.

Guided by her desire to provide space for a range of stage, studio and classroom activities, the new space offers classrooms, rehearsal space and smaller performance venues. The building is one of the first in the nation to incorporate video technology, making it possible to archive shows or workshops and instantaneously share them with other professionals across the world.

UVU Department of Theatrical Arts Chairman James Arrington said the design of the space matches "the innovation of the department it houses."

"With the ability to transform its seating configuration from show to show, audience members will never feel like they are coming to the same theater twice," he said, adding that it can showcase the ambiance of multiple styles of theater.

One of the most amazing components of the new theater is the mesh lighting grid that is strong enough for actors and technicians to walk on, but capable of disappearing once the stage lights come on.

The production of "Charlotte's Web," directed by UVU's Christopher Clark, will be the first event to play in the new theater and boasts sold-out shows from its opening on Sept. 17 to a final play on Oct. 3. Tickets for some matinees and scheduled evening performances are still available and can be purchased online at www.uvu.edu/theatre.

Clark's version is targeted to kindergarten-aged children and up, but he said it is cross-generational in its appeal.

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com