Following the yellow brick road is a golden opportunity for Streetsboro’s Thrive theater group to show off its new performance space at the new high school.
A production of The Wizard of Oz on Friday and Saturday will be the group’s first time performing in the 800-seat auditorium. In fact, it will be its first time performing in any school auditorium. The old high school did not have one, so the group had to perform and rehearse in the gymnasium, which required constantly setting up and taking down equipment and seating to make way for physical education classes the next day.
“The acoustics in that place were terrible,” said assistant director Zack Madden, 21, a 2014 Streetsboro graduate.
Voters passed a 4.56-mill bond issue and 0.5-mill permanent improvement levy for school construction in November 2013.
The new high school was finished in December. Renovation and expansion of the old high school to house grades six through eight is scheduled to be complete in July 2018.
The bond issue included $7 million in local funding to pay for the new high school auditorium, as well as a new athletic stadium with an all-weather track and turf field and additional space at the new Streetsboro Elementary School to accommodate growth.
“This place is really wonderful,” Madden said of the new auditorium. “It’s kind of amazing to have all the new tech and all of the little things that we have now that we didn’t have before, like having a digital sound board and a digital light board and having everything all hooked up into one big system.”
The auditorium has stadium-style seating, so it also can be used for movie nights, concerts and other events. There is a projector that comes down from the ceiling.
“For years, people would come to the gymnasium and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, this show is incredible, the only thing that’s lacking is the space,’?” said director Jim Boardwine, a Streetsboro graduate who has been teaching at the high school for 21 years.
Having a permanent home allows the group, made up of students and community members, to have more time to actually produce the show since they no longer have to worry about setting up and tearing down, he said. The group also previously had rented equipment but now has its own.
“We can invest and have a place for things,” Boardwine said.
The group did have a stage in the old gymnasium, but it was nowhere near the scale of what it has now, Madden said.
And there is room to grow. Boardwine said Friday’s show is sold out and sales are climbing for Saturday’s show. Sunday shows and multiple weekends might be added for future productions.
Word appears to be spreading.
“We’re getting a lot of interest from people in the area who have no affiliation with the cast or crew who are just coming to see a great show,” Boardwine said.
“Parents will go to anything … but we have people coming from Mantua, Kent, Solon, Twinsburg and Ravenna. They’re coming to be entertained. We’re proud of that.”
The space offers the cast more performance options. The gym did not have aisles, but in the new space there’s room for the yellow brick road to run up and down the sides, allowing the cast to come out off the stage and interact with the audience.
Another plus is air conditioning, which came in handy during rehearsal on a spring day when the temperature outside topped 80 degrees.
During a late-spring production of Alice in Wonderland in 2014, “people came up to me during intermission and said, ‘Hey, this show is amazing but I have to go home because I’m going to pass out,’?” Boardwine said. “It was maybe an 85-degree day outside and the gym was sweltering.”
“And in full makeup and costume as well, the actors were just as uncomfortable,” said Madden, who was a cast member in that show.
Principal James Hogue is pleased with the new space.
“It’s a treat to be an educator and have this experience of moving into a new building and seeing kids go from 1965 to 2017,” said Hogue, also a Streetsboro grad. The original building was designed for 300 students. There now are 600.
Boardwine teaches English, songwriting, theater and production. Some of his students from his songwriting class wrote songs that are in the show.
“It’s a hybrid show. It’s part of the original, it’s part of Wicked, part of [The] Wiz and then our own take as well,” he said.
During a techno take on Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead, the stage transforms into a dance club with flashing lights and bubbles floating through the air.
The rumble of the tornado is crystal clear over the sound system, with plenty of room onstage for Dorothy’s destroyed house.
A cluster of colored spotlights replicates the rainbow for Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
Katie Curran, 18, a senior who plays Dorothy in the show, said the new space feels a lot more professional. As a student in theatrical literature and songwriting classes, she spends half of her school day there.
“The first day I walked in here I was like, ‘Oh my God, this show’s going to be great,’ ” she said. “This venue is going to do a lot of good for us in the future.”?Anthony Mella, 17, a senior, who plays the Lion, has been in the group all four years of high school.
“It’s the proper atmosphere for acting and performing,” he said of the space. “For senior year, it’s a good way to go out with a bang.”
Monica L. Thomas can be reached at 330-996-3827 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MLThomasABJ and www.facebook.com/MLThomasABJ.