New school theater may not answer city's needs

Arts groups suffer shortage of locations to stage productions

Posted: Monday, September 25, 2000

The proposed high school at Dimond Park will include an auditorium, but it's not certain how much a new venue will help community groups solve their booking problems.

It's hard now for community groups to put on events at the 1,000-seat Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium because school events have priority. The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council has turned down visiting performers for lack of a venue, Director Sybil Davis told school planners at a meeting Sunday at JDHS.

The new high school will have an auditorium, probably seating 500 to 600 people, planners said. It would free up dates at the JDHS auditorium, said architect Paul Voelckers. But other planners cautioned the new school will have its own drama and music groups, which may tie up the stage for weeks for rehearsals and performances.

Planners also must decide whether the project can afford a musicians' pit at the Dimond Park high school. Without a pit which allows musicians to perform in front of the stage and out of sight of the audience the auditorium wouldn't be useful for musicals and operas, and wouldn't relieve users' pressure on the JDHS auditorium.

The JDHS auditorium is used in the evening by the Juneau Symphony, Juneau Lyric Opera, the high school drama and music departments, visiting performers and movies sponsored by the arts council, Juneau Dance Unlimited and school ceremonies, said auditorium manager Toby Clark.

The auditorium is getting more use, including about 100 events a year, Clark said. He said community groups often are turned away because of scheduling conflicts.

Another limitation is that using the auditorium on the weekend, such as for the Juneau Symphony, is incompatible with a noisy sports event in the gym, said architect Richard Ritter.

Clark said about 90 percent of events that now play at JDHS would fit in a 600- to 650-seat hall.

Davis of the arts council said she'd prefer an 850-seat auditorium at the new high school. It takes a big house to pay for visiting performers, she said. The arts council is doing more programs for students and building future audiences, she added.

"A 500-seat house, to me, is scary," Davis told planners. "I think you're going to build something that's going to be outdated quickly."

But the budget calls for no more than 600 seats, and theater consultant Rose Steele of California said a 500-seat hall is more suited to students' ability to project their voices.

Voters in October 1999 approved the sale of $50 million in bonds to build and furnish a new high school and $13 million to renovate JDHS. Construction is contingent on getting partial state reimbursement.

About $1 million of the bond proceeds is slated to renovate the JDHS auditorium. Much of that would go toward roofing, exterior wall repairs, a quieter fan and required accessibility upgrades. If voters approve continuing the 1 percent sales tax Oct. 3, it's possible that some of the revenue could pay for functional improvements as well.

Clark said the JDHS auditorium has lighting equipment that is falling apart, poor acoustics and little storage space.

School planners are meeting this afternoon at JDHS to hear recommendations from theater consultants Steele and Jack Bogan of Mountain View, Calif.

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