NEOSHO, Mo. – Meg Saffer and Claire Visnovske are already planning a season full of big productions. Once a new performing arts center is completed and open to students, Neosho High School drama teachers said the drama department will announce a full season of performances using the new space.
Group director Dan Duffield says his students can’t wait either – the group program, which has grown over the past few years, will be able to grow even more, but students will be able to repeat in the same classroom and put away their instruments. more conveniently.
And choir teacher Melanie Soule said the school could move into the show choir circuit to run competitions – a big draw for competitive activity.
“We have an incredible, big, strong fine arts program,” Soule said Tuesday at a performing arts center naming ceremony. “At least a third of the school is involved in one way or another, with a choir, a group or a theatre. The children have worked hard, whatever we have, but it allows us to provide opportunities that our children have not had before.”
Tuesday’s ceremony marked the first official celebration of the center’s construction. Work began in the summer of 2021, but the neighborhood was unable to host a groundbreaking ceremony at the time.
The event was held to honor donors who have made naming rights contributions. With a $1 million pledge, Freeman Health System was named the center’s legacy donor; the center will bear his name.
The center’s atrium will be named after Community Bank and Trust – part of the project calls for a redesign of the lobby space to accommodate simultaneous events. The orchestra pit will bear the name of the Slinkard family.
The 42,000-square-foot Freeman Health System Performing Arts Center is the centerpiece of a series of construction projects approved by voters, who in 2020 approved a 39-cent levy increase. When completed, it will offer a 1,500-seat auditorium with orchestra pit, acoustic treatments, fly loft, dressing rooms and loading area, as well as classrooms for performing arts students.
Superintendent Jim Cummins thanked community members for their support during the ceremony, as well as district officials who developed the proposal and volunteers who campaigned on the issue.
“If they hadn’t had the audacity to go out into the community, with a voting problem of a magnitude that we’ve never had before, we wouldn’t have this,” Cummins said. “We knew it was a community-defining request.”
The project, which expands the high school’s footprint by 36,130 square feet, also includes the renovation of existing space at the north end of the school. Expected to cost around $20 million, construction is expected to be completed in the spring of 2023.
Other projects in the 2020 levy increase that have been completed or are nearing completion include the La-Z-Boy End Zone facility and storm shelters at three other schools in the district. Once the performing arts center is complete, the final projects—expanding the high school gymnasium restrooms and locker rooms and converting the old auditorium into a choir hall—can begin.
In addition to serving students, the arts center is expected to attract economic activity. The neighborhood designed it to be large and modern enough to attract small traveling events, in addition to hosting plays, musicals and concerts performed by Neosho students.
Students and teachers are already excited about the possibilities. Senior Mira Levernz said the extra space in the theater means productions can expand, without tripping her up.
“It’s really hard to have big set pieces stored in the wings when they don’t have a lot of space,” Levernz said. “When I play, juggling obstacles behind the scenes isn’t much fun.”
Saffer and Visnovske say the expanded stage space, as well as the space around and above, means more students can get involved in the production. A larger cast and crew means they can build more complex sets, and the Slinkard Family Orchestra Pit can accommodate a live orchestra, something they can’t currently do in the venue’s current 300-seat auditorium. ‘school.
“Some of our limitations are sets that don’t change throughout the show. We don’t have the wing space to move them during a show,” Visnovske said. “With this new center, there’s enough space to have things flying and having things sitting backstage. We can have big changes and have more students working offstage.”
The project also requires additional classroom space, which Duffield’s music programs will appreciate. The music room is too small for the whole group, requiring a division into two classrooms, he said. Additionally, the main music room is so small that the ceiling tiles have been removed to dampen excessive noise.
But the biggest draw will be the chance to perform on stage, he said.
“The only opportunity they have to perform on stage is when we go to a contest,” Duffield said. “They are thrilled to have access to a stage every day and attend regularly. I think the community will appreciate their performances more as well.”
Upon completion of the project, the current auditorium will be leveled and transformed into a new classroom space for the school’s choral programs.
Visnovske said the new equipment and resources will help better prepare students who plan to continue working not only in theater but also in live event production or in the television and film industries. by giving them access to tools that they are likely to see in those other places.
Levernz hopes that, if she is lucky enough to take this step at the end of her senior year, it won’t be the last time. Although she does not plan to pursue a theater career, she is very enthusiastic about the idea of participating in community theater and hopes that the new center will encourage the creation of a local theater group.
“It’s something I want to continue doing for the rest of my life,” Levernz said. “I think it will be more what most spaces will be like, and it will give more opportunities for the community as a whole, rather than just high school performances. Now there is a chance for community theater happen here.”