Performing Arts staff, students discuss east side construction, implications

Dariush Khurram

Construction that will renovate outdated and outsized facilities in the performing arts department has greatly impacted the activities of the department.

     Chris Kreke, performing arts department chairperson, said, “Right now, it’s slated to be about an 18-month construction process that happens in three six-month phases. So as each of those phases is happening, we’re having to shift the rest of the department into the facilities that still exist, and then, once those phases are finished, shifting back into some of those rooms to open up other areas to be worked on.”

     “We don’t have access to anything that was the band and orchestra rooms,” Kreke said. “We also don’t have access to the auditorium,” he added. He said this has led to the relocation of classes, performances, and productions into smaller spaces that were not designed for their repurposing. Relocation into tighter areas has led to challenges for students and teachers. 

     For Nolan Latterell, band student and junior, class is more “confined.” He said, “We’ve had to adjust to moving our stuff around in the back of the room.” 

     Technical theatre director Andrew Okerson said, “We are losing some of our facilities where we do a lot of our training.” 

     Gavin Griffin, technical theatre student and junior, also said, “Everyone’s been displaced. We don’t have an auditorium anymore, so all of the new kids have very little experience with anything.”

Gavin Griffin, technical theatre student and junior, attaches an arm to a mannequin in the temporary scene shop while the old scene shop undergoes renovations as part of ongoing Performing Arts construction (Arthur Mansavage)

     Griffin compared his experience as a freshman with that of current beginner technical theatre students, saying, “They have not seen many of the things that we were very comfortable with. They’re getting a very different experience than we did.”

     Nevertheless, teachers and students said they have stayed optimistic and adjusted to their unique situations. 

     Griffin said, “We’re all adapting to the new positions and everything pretty well. Everything is just kind of new right now. It’s refreshing, I think, for a lot of people. It may be challenging at first, but ultimately, I think this new adversity will be a good learning opportunity and will yield a better experience for everyone.” 

     Similarly, Latterell said, “We try not to complain about the situation too much because we know that it’s going to be for a better performing arts section.” 

     This resilience was reflected in Okerson’s statements as well; he said although they’re acting creative in these circumstances, the product that they are making is still top-notch.

     As for the necessity of the construction, Kreke said many facilities haven’t been renovated in decades. 

     “The newest part of the facility was over in the band and orchestra area that was built in ‘92 and ‘93 and opened in ‘94,” he said, “so we’re approaching 30 years. It was also built for programs that weren’t anywhere close to the size that they are now.”

     According to Kreke, both the band program and the orchestra program have more than doubled in size since that time, making things like storage very outsized for what they need.

     Kreke said through various additions and other adjustments that have occurred over the years, a lot of the different ensembles were split up into different areas of the building.

     “So (the construction) kind of reorganizes, reunifies all of that, along with renovating all of those spaces to bring up the current technology standards, so size standards,” he said.

     Likewise, Okerson said the renovation was “absolutely” necessary to create the spaces that are necessary for the department to better the experience of the students.

     Griffin said the previous equipment and space utilized by technical theatre was insufficient.

     “We made it work,” he said, “but the sound, our speakers, a lot of them were just broken. I’ve heard people complain about the lights. Everything was dirty; I blame the students on that one. But that will all be gone in the renovation, and we’ll have this new, fresh space to make a mess out of.”

     The construction looks to expand the performing arts space by 17,000 square feet. It will create greater space for rehearsals, as well as increased storage space. The auditorium will see improved lighting, rigging, seating and sound systems. 

    According to Okerson, the Studio Theater, which is currently about 80 feet by 80 feet, will be brand new. It will triple in size and live behind the auditorium. Okerson said this increased space will allow for many different activities students haven’t had the ability to carry out in the smaller Studio Theater.

     Speaking on the future space, Kreke said, “Storage, the size of the ensemble rooms, the quantity of the ensemble rooms and the quantity of smaller rehearsal rooms to split those ensembles up into are all going to be taken care of.”

     “The auditorium is going to be beautiful and technologically current,” he said. “So I’m really looking forward to having spaces that operate to current standards.” 

     Okerson also said he looks forward to the new setting. 

     He said, “In two years, when all of this is done, we’re going to have a world class performing arts center that’s really representative of the talent and the product that comes out of the performing arts department at Carmel High School.”

Raghav Sriram