Senior Akilan Murgesan (right) directs junior Austin Talamantes where to adjust the stage lighting in a rehearsal, while stand- ing in drama’s cramped makeshift sound box. The play, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” was March 17-18 .
New Head’s Priority: New buildings; students identify fine arts facility as primary need
In a Nov. 2 Octagon poll, high schoolers were asked to rank their priorities for Lee Thomsen, new head of school. Adding new buildings was the second-most-popular choice.
Forty-eight of 129 high schoolers polled said that Lee Thomsen, new head of school, should concentrate on constructing new buildings on campus.
And almost all of them said that a fine arts building needs to be the first.
Junior Avi Bhullar, who has participated in drama since freshman year, said the drama program is limited by a lack of space, both onstage and backstage.
“Our green room, which is the only ‘backstage’ place we have, is super small,” Bhullar said.
“Plus our changing space is just a sheet over some PVC pipes, which, needless to say, is rickety and inconvenient.”
According to drama teacher Brian Frishman, updated lighting equipment and more rehearsal space are definitely needed.
“It is hard sharing the space with so many programs, which forces us only to have late-night practices,” Frishman said.
Sophomore Yasmin Gupta, an orchestra member, wants a new fine arts building so the band and orchestra have a better space to practice and perform.
“We are all squished in the MP Room, so now we have to split up the concerts into two nights, which is really inconvenient,” Gupta said.
“One time, it was so crowded to get up onto the stage that someone dropped their instrument on the way up to perform!”
Orchestra teacher Felecia Keys called the performance space “an absolute embarrassment.”
“We are the ones who are least thought about when it comes to building all these new lovely buildings,” she said.
“We teach in cramped quarters, and we are constantly moving around to move all the instruments across the pavement, rain or shine.”
Freshman Heidi Johnson, who has played clarinet in the band since fifth grade, agrees that a fine arts building should be the new head’s first priority.
“(The MP Room) is used for so many reasons, so it gets very loud and noisy when we are trying to practice,” Johnson said.
“People don’t really respect it as a band space while we are practicing. They think of it more as a place they can just walk through and socialize in – or even cook in!”
Lower-school music teacher Elena Bennett struggles regularly with the lack of space and facilities in the performing arts department.
“Look at the schedule for (Friday, March 11), which is a typical day at Country Day: a Renaissance Faire production, a Renaissance lunch, band classes, play practices, a lunch program, and countless other people running in and out,” Bennett said.
“It is just an example of how too many people are forced to share one space.”
Every year Bennett has to transform the gymnasium into a performance space for the winter concert, but said she is still disappointed every year because there is not enough space for the audience size she’d like to seat nor an adequate light and sound system.
And middle-school physical education teacher Jason Kreps is forced to hire a substitute for a couple of days prior to the winter concert, so he can set up the sound system and run the sound during the winter concert rehearsals and show.
According to “This We Remember – the First 50 Years,” the SCDS history book published last year for the 50th anniversary, the MP Room was built in 1976, and the building of a performing arts center was supposed to be completed during the next stage of construction.
Obviously that phase was never completed.
Band teacher Bob Ratcliff remembers that plan.
“They hired me 16 years ago, and one of the things they said to me when they hired me was that they were right around the corner from building a performing arts facility,” he said.
“Now look at us! We are the punchline of the longest running joke! Did you see in last year’s graduation? (The long-promised fine arts building) was the most used joke!”
Junior Austin Talamantes, who has participated in the drama program since middle school, said he feels underappreciated as the school continues to improve and renovate other things besides the fine arts building.
“The drama department is my sport,” Talamantes said. “I prepare for months for each play, so basically each play is like my huge playoff game. I just wish we got the same support from the school.”
And junior Isabelle Leavy feels the same way about the studio-art program.
“I think that we are prioritizing the wrong things as an institution,” Leavy said.
“Our motto is ‘Academics. The Arts. Athletics. Every Day.’ There is a lot of skill in the arts department, so it is just tragic that we don’t have opportunities to show that off as a school and use it as advertising simply because we don’t have the necessary facilities.”
Current headmaster Stephen Repsher said he thinks it would be a wonderful thing if the new head of school were to prioritize building a new fine arts facility.
“I definitely support it, and we would have one already if only we had the resources to build one,” Repsher said.
Freshman Chardonnay Needler, who was on the student committee that interviewed the candidates for head of school, said that Thomsen noted that the school needed a fine arts building when he was being interviewed for the position in October.
“He assured us on the panel interviewing him that a new fine arts building was a priority for him, which made me want him to be our new headmaster even more,” Needler said.
During a recent interview Thomsen said, “There is no question that a new fine arts facility is a real need for Country Day.”
Thomsen said he saw “The Paper Chase” production put on this fall and was very impressed with the acting and direction of the production.
“One can only imagine the energy and excitement that a state-of-the-art facility would bring to the programs at the school,” Thomsen said.
“Great independent schools like Country Day value the arts, academics, and athletics equally.”
But Keys said she’s skeptical.
“I have heard it so many times before,” she said. “I don’t want to say that I’ve given up, but I would be surprised if we get something in my lifetime.”