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February 3, 2004 > Centerville Junior High Theater

Centerville Junior High Theater

A Community in Sync!

Amidst stories of budget cuts, lowered expectations and economic turmoil, it is a nice surprise to focus on a success story that involves the best efforts of a community - both private citizens and public entities. The Centerville Junior High School community is no stranger to civic participation in school facilities and events. An outstanding example has been the school's Theatre Arts program. Several major productions including Wizard of Oz and Once Upon A Mattress have been presented to the community in a "theater" decorated and refurbished through the efforts of staff, students, parents, siblings and community businesses.

This school year, a major dilemma faced Principal Garo Mirigian. Centerville Junior High School was slated for some overdue and necessary changes including the demolition and replacement of several buildings on campus ...that was the good news. Construction included a safe drop off/pickup area, additional classrooms, bathrooms and a face lift, long overdue, for the aging school facilities. However, a casualty of the renovation would be the building housing the theater and therefore, the theater!

Knowing "the realities of the budget" would not allow the district to replace the theater, Principal Mirigian was faced with the loss of a valuable asset. The Centerville community had stepped forward to renovate the old theater; he wondered...could this happen again? A change in curriculum vacated a room previously used as a metal shop. District personnel, while sympathetic, could not expend resources on anything beyond a basic classroom. Mr. Mirigian points out, "The school district did their part. "They provided a clean room, including electrical wiring and then gave us guidance on safety and contractual issues."

After storage bays were removed, a new ceiling, paint and finish work created the outline, "the parents went to work!" The basic classroom remains as a completed structure while additions to create a theater were constructed as "free-standing," removable sections that can convert the space back to a basic classroom, if necessary.

Elevated seating, sub-flooring, a proscenium (space between the curtains and stage edge) and a stage of maple wood salvaged from the old theater appeared. Wiring for lights, a sound system and control panel has been installed. New sound equipment, courtesy of the school site council, and theater curtains, using a loan from the student council, have been ordered. All labor and carpeting has been donated and materials are being supplied by local merchants at "unbelievable deals."

The stalwart crew led by parents and citizens such as John Christman and Mark Aragon has been working on the new facility with an eye to completion by the end of January. The finishing touch will be new curtains, due to arrive at the end of February. Drama teacher, Dawn Troupe-Masi (Mrs. "T"), knows the difference between teaching her drama classes in a theater setting as opposed to a classroom. Standing on a stage, looking at an audience is an experience that inspires confidence and poise.

Centerville students know they have something special at their school and value the experience. Not only is this a unique venue at the Junior High School level, but as Mr. Mirigian says, it addresses one of the top fears of most people - speaking in front of others. When asked how the students are responding, Mrs. "T" smiles and comments that the reaction is phenomenal; "We used to sit in a circle in the room and now, with the changes, this is not the same room and these are not the same kids!" The difference between talking on a stage and listening in an audience setting is dramatic; "you can see it in their eyes." "The skills learned here can be used for any opportunity and career they choose. Speaking in public is a great fear for many people. Here, we provide a 'safe' zone, not only for speaking, but learning to be an audience too."

She adds, "Garo has so much wealth from the community. People come back, even those without children at this school, to donate their time. I can't believe the hard work these people do. It's completely overwhelming....and exciting!"

Students who previously were uninterested in the drama program are coming by to see what is happening. Mr. Mirigian adds, "This is the school version of - If you build it, they will come." There is a sense of being the first group of students to make use of the "new" school and it is an exciting experience. Students have a sense of history; their actions are at the beginning of something that will become a tradition as time goes on.

Centerville Jr. High's theater will be inaugurated in March with a presentation of "Bye Bye Birdie." If you want to see the results of a successful public/private partnership, enjoy a wonderful performance and be a part of history, watch for announcements of the play's opening.

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