Looking Back: Newtown High Stretches Out in Renovated Auditorium

by Stage Directions
The view from the house of the renovated Newtown High School auditorium in Newtown, CT
The view from the house of the renovated Newtown High School auditorium in Newtown, CT

Newtown High School’s performing arts community was undismayed by the challenge of producing three plays in temporary venues during the year-long renovation of their 13,700 square-foot auditorium. Since the completion of the $3.75 million renovation, Newtown, CT's High School was produced plays and musicals such as The Crucible, Les Misérables, and most recently Mary Poppins. Nextstage Design, the theater consultants for the auditorium, recently checked in to see how this ambitious group of students and teachers has been experiencing the space.

Jane Matson, NHS Choral Director and director of Les Misérables, decided to celebrate the new auditorium by producing “something epic and grand, something beautiful in its music and inspiring in its message.” (It also happens to be the musical that prompted Janice Gabriel, Theater Arts Teacher and auditorium manager, to pursue a theater career.) Matson noted that Les Mis depicts characters “who suffer unimaginable loss yet move on with strength and dignity… who endeavor to make the world a better place,” which, coupled with its technical difficulty, is inspiring for the community and enriching for students. New production possibilities opened by the renovation to the space provided a properly stretched canvas on which the students imparted their talent, empathy, drive, and intellect in order to share an earnest, wholehearted moment with the community.

Janice Gabriel noted that the space works wonderfully now, and she is thankful to Nextstage for answering questions regarding equipment use and best practices promptly in order to smooth the initial year of use. Janice relates “You all have been such a wonderful partner for us, and I have truly enjoyed our partnership and personally enjoyed your friendship and guidance!”
The new Thern Brickhouse arbors and rope locks installed at the renovated Newtown High School are overseen by Theater Arts Teacher and auditorium manager, Janice Gabriel

Nextstage Design collaborated with Smith Edwards McCoy (now QA+M Architecture) to renovate the 1970s-era auditorium. They re-sloped the auditorium floor, reseated the auditorium for 950, and created parterre seating areas at the rear and sides of the auditorium to improve sightlines and comfort, improve access for wheelchair users, and foster a more intimate and supportive environment for the student performers. The firm updated the lighting systems, allowing the school to add LED units and providing LED cyc lights to be used for rich coloring of the new seamless cyclorama. They added a followspot perch above the control room (previously a scaffold had to be built for each light, and the units hauled up into position for the annual musical). A double purchase counterweight rigging system was installed using Thern Brickhouse arbors and rope locks, providing a training opportunity for students under the supervision of Gabriel. The new LED house lighting can provide ample light for note-taking or can be dimmed for watching video presentations.

These improvements have transformed the auditorium and allowed it to assume a larger role in the life of the school and community.

Further information from Nextstage Design: www.nextstage-online.com