In great works of drama, amazing transformations often come from within.
At Pius XI High School, life reflects art this week with this plot twist: $3 million makeover turns old gym space into state-of-the-art performing arts center hosting its first big production.
One would never know it from the old-school exterior on the south end of 135 N. 76th St., but behind that facade lies the 21st-century Father Robert V. Carney Performing Arts Center.
A blue-hued, 500-seat theater awaits an audience for one of the first area productions of the recently-released “Miss Saigon School Edition.”
“It was nice to couple that premiere with the premiere of the new space,” said “Miss Saigon” music director Bonnie Scholz. The theater is named for Wendy Joy Lindsey, a strong supporter of Pius’s performing arts program who died in 2009.
“It’s a really nice legacy that the space is named after someone so dedicated to the program,” show director Kevin Schwartz said.
The performing arts center also includes two visual arts galleries. Its lobby includes displays that recognize the role of the School Sisters of St. Francis and the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers in establishing the school. Fr. Robert Carney was a Pallottine priest who served at the school 37 years – his entire priesthood – until his death in 2003.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity it will provide. I think that we are really well-known for our performing arts curriculum and opportunities for students,” interim principal Betty Hunt said. “There are so many groups that will be able to showcase their talents. It was a long time in coming.”
Construction of the center was part of a long-range plan that began with construction of the school fieldhouse in 2004. That freed the old gym space to become the
What: Miss Saigon School Edition
footprint of the performing arts center, but the necessary fundraising was completed in recent years.
The center gives students an opportunity to share their talents – which Scholz, chair of the performing arts department, described as “forms of worship.” She noted that the inaugural performance at the center in October, “Standing on Holy Ground,” was dedicated to the school’s founding religious orders.
In the past, the school has done major productions at the Pabst Theater. The new theater’s proscenium – the “frame” that surrounds the stage opening – is nearly as large as the Pabst’s and its orchestra pit is slightly larger, Scholz said. The E-Coustic sound system can be adjusted to mimic acoustics of different settings – even a setting as complex as the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
“I’m glad that we finally have our own theater,” said Pius senior Christon Sykes-Smith, 17. He has been cast in multiple roles in “Miss Saigon” and plays baritone saxophone with the symphonic and jazz bands.
“Now that we have this new theater, we get to practice on the stage and I think that is going to be a lot easier for the actors and the pit,” Sykes-Smith said.
About 80 students are involved in “Miss Saigon.” The cast includes 35; the balance work on lighting and sound, costuming, makeup, ticket sales and other facets. Nine younger children were cast in open auditions.
“We were looking for a show that is a big powerful show with some big, epic messages,” Schwartz said. He coordinated visits by Vietnam immigrants and U.S. Vietnam War veterans with the students involved in the production, which is set at the end of the war.