Taking a new stage

Oakwood School’s new performing arts center provides a boost for students

A ‘REAL THEATER’ Oakwood School’s new performing arts building has allowed the school to upgrade its productions. Photo: Robert Eliason

As the head of the Performing Arts Department at Oakwood School, Kathleen Abbey has seen her share of drama. For 13 years, the school’s drama director and teacher has had to work with a makeshift stage in the school gymnasium for her theater productions.

“I used to have to worry if a volleyball hit my lights the night before,” she said. “My changing rooms were tents outside the back door, rain or shine—that’s where the kids were.”

But all that changed when the school’s new Liberal Arts Building opened in August, featuring a 200-seat performing arts theater which opened two months later. 

I went from a gymnasium thrust stage to a real theater,” Abbey said. 

And when Abbey’s students first entered the new Gwendolyn Riches Liberal Arts Theatre in October, emotions ran high.

“When the kids first saw it, some of them just started crying,” she recalled. “Our changing rooms have big mirrors with Hollywood lights around them; we have an actual green room with a couch and a couple of chairs for the kids to sit in; we have real lighting—and our tech booth is amazing!”

The theater’s two changing rooms also have TV screens, allowing actors to watch the show backstage so as not to miss cues.  

“This theater is just amazing,” Abbey said. “It’s really state of the art.” 

And it has also hosted a number of school productions and concerts since its inaugural show, Here Comes the Judge, in October. Three elementary school shows have followed, as well as a winter concert and the middle school musical, Mulan.  

Up until last week, Abbey and her crew were gearing up for Oakwood’s performance of Seussical, which has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cast of 32, plus its seven tech crew members (as well as three drama classes), had worked on the set design and costumes. 

“They are required to come to help build the set, help pull the props and help create their own costumes,”  Abbey said. “It’s part of the learning process.”

And that process has now become much easier with the new theater’s Maker’s Lab, which Abbey is especially thankful for. 

“The fact that we’ve been able to build and just use this space has been great,” Abbey said. Chloe Borsody (who plays Sour Kangaroo), for instance, has been designing and creating the Seussical set pieces in the new lab.  

I drew the designs in December and I started building in early January,” Borsody said. 

The Oakwood junior has also been in charge of the students required to come in and help.

“She did a really good job of multitasking,” said fellow junior Lili Jaquet (The Cat in the Hat). “It was really impressive.”  

The Maker’s Lab is just one of the new features the Gwendolyn Riches Liberal Arts Theatre has provided for Oakwood’s performing arts department. And while parents and donors have helped fund the payments to build the new building and theater, Oakwood’s Event & Engagement Coordinator, Kelli Frazer, said funds are still needed. 

“We are still fundraising for completion,” she said. “We still need support.”

For information, visit oakwoodway.org.

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