The theatres and auditoria of my youth were an intoxicating blend of low-tech and low-brow. In my elementary school, dear old Shawnee, the theatre shared space with the gymnasium and cafeteria. I took the stage several times during my six years there, from my stint in kindergarten as narrator/emcee in a Peter Rabbit pageant (I slayed 'em with my joke about Fresca), to my legit debut in the fifth grade as the dog in How the Grinch Stole Christmas (I replaced a kid whose mother found the role too demeaning) to my aborted stint in the sixth grade as a magician in a talent show (a tornado destroyed our town the week of the show — the event was cancelled, but the school survived). The stage itself seemed tiny, even back then; the only lingering memory I have of the space is the strong smell of rancid milk wafting from the nearby kitchen.
In junior high, the theatre shared space with the gymnasium, but thankfully not the cafeteria. I don't recall being on that stage very much, except for the occasional band or choir concert, being as that was at the height of my pubescent psychosis. You can see me in yearbook photos from that time with the band and choir: I'm the nerd in the back row with braces, glasses, and stringy hair, wishing desperately to be somewhere else.
Things perked up considerably by sophomore year; thanks to the aforementioned tornado, we had a brand-spankin'-new high school, with a completely separate, state-of-the-art (for the time) theatre, some PAR cans, ellipsoidals, a decent rigging system, even, as I recall, a rudimentary sound system. I spent a lot of time on that stage, for band and choir concerts, as well as for such theatrical productions as Charley's Aunt, Oklahoma!, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. We thought we had it good.
But in preparing for this month's special report on architecture, I've learned all about what is going into new theatres and auditoria for high schools today. And boy, do I feel screwed.
Kids today! They got it too good. Self-contained, intimate theatres, full lighting and audio components, orchestra pits, scene and costume shops…. I could go on, but it makes me weep. Still, if you turn to page 30, you can find out all there is to know about what has quietly become one of the hottest markets for new theatrical spaces. We begin with a roundtable of consultants, architects, and high school officials discussing the challenges of bringing these spaces to life, followed by a look at two recent projects from around the country: McEachern High School in a suburb of Atlanta, and Taconic Hills Central School in upstate New York. You can also read all about the new theatre at Bishop Ireton High School in Virginia on the web at www.entertainmentdesignmag.com.
Websites! That's another thing we didn't have when I was in school.