Opening night of EHS Onstage's Spring Musical "Fiddler on the Roof" marked the first performance in the newly renovated Underwood Theatre. An audience of more than 800, including alumni, current students and families, and faculty filled the comfortable blue seats, and many attended the pre-show reception in Glassell Hall where the crowd enjoyed a buffet of salads and pasta bar, courtesy of the Dads Club.
Head of School Ned Smith began the evening with a message of gratitude for all attendees, cast, and crew. He thanked the donors, many of whom were present, for the resources committed to upgrading the theatre. The revamp includes increasing the number of seats to 944 and adding wing space to the main stage for set pieces and actors. Most useful, he noted, are three back-of-house dressing rooms that can accommodate 13 actors and actresses in each room. "Some of you may remember running in your costumes from the Convent to the theatre during performances," he recalled with a smile, referring to the days prior to on-site dressing rooms.
Smith noted that enrollment in arts courses and programs is so strong that "more than 80 percent of Episcopal students take arts classes all four years of high school." To meet the demand, the school is launching a capital campaign for a new Visual and Performing Arts Complex that will feature flexible classroom spaces, a small theater for intimate performances, and a meeting space that can accommodate 200.
George Brock, Director of EHS Onstage for 15 years, says the "Fiddler on the Roof" premiere was a key moment in his career, where he remembered past productions and imagined future possibilities.
"There is so much more space backstage now," Brock explains. "This gives us the opportunity to explore new ways of creating scenery and lighting. It also allows for larger casts and more interplay between all of the performing arts. That's how we were able to incorporate dancers from the dance program into 'Fiddler on the Roof.' We had the space for them! Large dressing rooms that function for the entire cast allow us to dress in the Underwood. In the past, we had to dress in the Convent and then move to the Underwood. This saves tons of time and makes all of our logistics much easier to manage.
"Secondly-- and I feel more importantly," he continues, "is that when students see the school put resources toward the house renovation, it tells them that what they do as artists is valued and celebrated in a concrete way. You could see the lift in their energy and their approach to working on the show. They like being in the space and want to share it with others.
"Showing the renovation to alums and their families has been a great joy," Brock adds. "You can feel a sense of pride coming from former students as they realize that all of this change has come about because of the work they did in sometimes difficult conditions. I tell our current students that they are standing on the shoulders of giants. It's the foundation laid by those past students who put the EHS theater program on the map. You can draw a straight line from their work and commitment to the beautiful Underwood Theatre we re-opened last weekend!"