In the summer of 2017, the auditorium had its seats replaced for the first time since it was founded in 1928. Now, an even more pertinent issue arises concerning the auditorium’s safety and functionality.
Over last summer, drama teacher Todd Schaefer’s 10-year-enduring request for an auditorium inspection was finally granted. Not only was the inspection long overdue, but replacement of the batten system– a system of metal poles suspended above the stage or audience from which lighting fixtures, theatrical scenery, and theater drapes and stage curtains may be hung– is past code by an estimated 20 years.
Discussion and action by administrators and school board members needs to start in order to address this problem.
Schaefer said, “Right now, it’s a pulley system. And code for now in 2018 is it’s all hydraulics. You just push a button. People are getting hurt with the hand pulley system.”
Schaefer had no choice but to take the system down completely. According to him, until the replacement takes place, the mainstage is left with one-third of the lighting power it previously had.
This issue will affect large events like the All Write Festival, indoor graduation, mainstage plays, smaller events like class meetings and any others that depend on the school’s auditorium. Although Schaefer said this will not prevent these events from happening, it will be a “major disadvantage” to not only drama productions which use extensive lighting effects, but to band, orchestra and choir concerts.
Webster has long considered itself a Fine Arts school district.
Principal Matthew Irvin said, “We have a community here, I think, that values the arts and cares about expression in whatever manifestation it is. And yet, we’re capped.”
The high school offers 54 fine art courses, many of which spend most class time preparing for their concerts in the auditorium–especially music related courses. Students involved in music or drama classes account for about 40% of the student body.
These students’ work is displayed at their concerts, and they deserve to have an accommodating functional lighting system so their family and friends can see them as they perform.
Irvin said, “We are not experiencing, I think, what that (auditorium) space was envisioned to be. I think we would certainly want to talk to the people who are using the space… and get their thoughts and visions of what it could be. And then it would be a matter of how the district would fund that.”
Schaefer mentioned possible solutions: “Basically, (the replacement team) will have to remove all the battens, all the cabling, all the weight systems–all of it has to come out–and they have to put a hydraulic system in.”
Another option would be a permanent batten system:“It is two permanent battens that can’t fly in and out that we can hang our lights on. And basically we’ll have our lighting from above, you can still do lights, but no flying set pieces or curtains in… I have a feeling that’s where we’re going.
“We have the architectural space for a fly system– But we probably won’t be able to afford it.” Schaefer said.
More information on the process and price of this replacement can be determined through school board and district-wide meetings discussing the issue. It is the administration and board’s responsibility to uphold our facilities to the proper standards and support the the school’s art programs, especially with Webster Groves being such an arts-focused community.
This be will Josie Krueger’s second year on Echo staff, but she made several contributions while taking journalism class her sophomore year. She has been recognized by MIPA and JournalismSTL for her work on the Echo.
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